2011 NFL Combine. Muhammad Wilkerson left. J.J. Watt right
Some players are destined to be linked. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is a prime example. Both played at the top of their game at the same position at the same time. Two players on the opposite side of the ball who also appear destined to be linked are Muhammad Wilkerson and J.J. Watt.
Wilkerson and Watt were both drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. J.J. was taken with the 11th pick by the Houston Texans. Mo was taken with the 30th pick by the New York Jets. If you fast forward to the present time you will see that they are both playing at all-pro levels. J.J. is the consensus best 3-4 defensive end in the league. According to most everyone else, who doesn't vote for the pro bowl, Wilkerson is the stand alone #2. J.J. is America's favorite son. He is an imposing and physically dominant white boy who played ball in the Big 10. The Big 10 was yesteryear's favorite conference. He is a throwback to the past to see a player fitting his mold playing like he is. He is a reporters dream who acts and plays big with a perfect smile sometimes dripping blood. Muhammad Wilkerson is a quiet leader. A black man given the name of an Islamic prophet. He didn't play his ball in a storied conference. He played for the Temple Owls from the AAC. He was at one point deemed a "sleeper" prior to the combine and draft. For the past 2 seasons he has been snubbed for the pro bowl, passed over for those less deserving with more household names. Any team running a 3-4 base defense would be chomping at the bit to get a chance to acquire either of these men.
Being a fan of the New York Jets, I am partial to Wilkerson. This is still the case after I crossed all my fingers and toes that Watt would slip to the 30th pick in 2011. I was disappointed when I heard our selection of Wilkerson. I am not ashamed to admit this, but I can say I now feel dumb for it. Both men are dominating, but I'm here to break down the statistics and find the underlying trends in them. I will be comparing statistics from each individual season since their rookie campaigns of 2011. We will look at who is trending up and who is trending down, and what their stats may look like next season if the trends continue.
I understand that trends in statistics from only 3 seasons is a small sample size. I also understand that in a game as totally unpredictable as sports, trying to find trends and use them to predict future performances is little more than a shot in the dark. At this point of the season, as both teams sit at home, with the draft and combine still far in the future, a good football read is still good enough to keep me warm in the frigid temperatures of Illinois.
In 2011 J.J. Watt out performed Wilkerson in all of the categories I am focusing on, save one. They played the exact same number of games, with Wilkerson seeing a few more snaps. This is how the stats played out:
Watt / Wilkerson
Tackles: 48 / 35
Sacks: 5.5 / 3
Forced Fumbles: 0 / 1
Interceptions: 0 / 0
I will now breakdown J.J. Watt's 2012 statistics to begin to show trends. His stats for the 2012 seasons are as follows:
Forced Fumbles: 4
The highest increase in stats by percentage was 0 forced fumbles becoming 4. Since no matter how many percentage you increase 0 by its still 0, this stat will be thrown out. I will do the same in the future for a stat of Wilkerson to be fair. Below shows the percentage of change in each statistic. This will show if he is trending up or down.
Forced Fumbles: Thrown out
These are impressive increases to show over a single season. Watt's rookie year wasn't all-world, but neither was it pedestrian. In 2012 Watt recorded a monster year. In this season Watt was trending upward, with the arrow pointing way up. Overall J.J. saw a 158% increase in his stats. This was calculated by taking how much each stat had increased or decreased, and dividing by the number of categories. Had the 4 forced fumbles been taken into account, and averaged as 400% (incorrect, but with a base in logic) his stat increase would be 238%
Enter Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson's sophomore year will be listed below.
Forced Fumbles: 3
Wilkerson's biggest increase by percentage was in his forced fumbles. They increased 300%. His stats didn't balloon in the way that Watt's did. He recorded only 1 more tackle and 2 more sacks on the season. Below is the breakdown on percentages to see which way Wilkerson's arrow was pointing at the end of the 2012 season.
Forced Fumbles: + 300%
It is obvious that while he was not trending up as quickly as J.J., Wilkerson was also on the rise. His stats rose an average of 123%. At the end of 2012, both players were trending upward, and at a very steep climb. They both took a big sophomore step, with Watt's legs seemingly much longer.
(Note, as neither increased in interceptions, that stat was removed from the average trend(
The 2013 season saw stellar play from both players, but the trends did not continue for both players as they had in the previous year. First we will look at J.J. Watt. This is his stat line from 2013.
Forced Fumbles: 4
In 2013, Watt saw a decrease in all of his stats with the exception of forced fumbles. His biggest drop was in sacks, where he registered 49% fewer than he did the season before. Below is the breakdown of each stat by their percentage of rise or fall.
Forced Fumbles: +-0%
Overall Watt was trending downward at 13.75%. He was unable to keep up his breakneck climb in stats. In this case, he fell behind the curve, seeing a decrease in all stats but 2.
Wilkerson, as we all knock, was the cornerstone of the Sons of Anarchy in 2013. The first defensive line the deserved a name since the New York Sack Exchange. While they paled in comparison to the NYSE, Wilkerson and crew played another stellar season. Lets look at his numbers.
Forced Fumbles: 2
Wilkerson saw a rise in all statistics but one. He saw a single digit decline in his number of forced fumbles. His biggest riser was sacks, where he increased by 110% from his 2012 numbers, and 250% from his rookie numbers. As with J.J.'s sophomore season, Wilkerson's increase in interceptions will be thrown out since it saw an increase from 0. Lets look his trends below.
Forced Fumbles: -33%
Interceptions: Thrown out
Wilkerson saw his arrow continue to point upward. He lost momentum, as his average statistic rose only 32% from his previous year. Unlike Watt, Wilkerson was still able to produce better stats than the season before.
What might this tell us about their production from next season? Most likely, nothing at all. However, I was interested to see if Wilkerson continued to trend up, and Watt continued to trend down, would Wilkerson meet or possibly surpass Watt in 2014? The stat line following the trend of 2013 is below
Watt / Wilkerson
Tackles: 56 / 56
Sacks: 9 / 14
Forced Fumbles: 3.5 / 3
Interceptions: 0 / 1
If current trends continue, Wilkerson will surpass Watt in 2014. I understand that there is no way to predict future statistics in a sport as dynamic as Football, but as a Jets homer, I am willing to use this to feed my love of the team and hope for the future.
Post Script: Curious to see what percentage Wilkerson is up overall? From his rookie season to present, this is how his stat line looks in percentage of change.\
Forced Fumbles: +100%