What the Addition of J.J. Watt Means For the Arizona Cardinals Defensive Line

J.J. Watt Cardinals

Russell Wilsons worst nightmares have been realized. Concluding what has become one of the stories of the offseason, J.J. Watt announced that he will be signing a two-year, $31 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

J.J. Watt Brings More Stardom to Arizona Cardinals

After the news broke of Watt’s release from the Houston Texans, fans of almost every team in the league fielded their pitch. Amongst the favorites were the Buffalo Bills, who were rumored to be out in front only hours before the announcement.

With the signing, the Cardinals continue to take advantage of the ongoing exodus from Houston. Watt is only the latest Texans star to depart the organization for the desert, after one of the trades of the previous offseason brought wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. With Deshaun Watson holding firm about his desire to leave the Texans, the worrying period of unrest in Houston shows no sign of stopping.

J.J. Watt Joins Talented Defensive Line Group

In Arizona, J.J. Watt joins a defensive line unit that already touts some notable names. Headlining the group is star outside linebacker and pass rusher Chandler Jones. Long considered one of the best edge rushers in the league, Jones is coming off an injured bicep that saw him miss a large part of the 2020 season. Rumors have also indicated that Chandler Jones played a major part in recruiting Watt’s services to the Cardinals.

On the opposite side stands Haason Reddick. Due to inconsistency in his performances, the former Temple player was long considered a bust. Notably, Reddick has played under different defensive coordinators and schemes every year of his professional career. However, in 2020, Reddick leaped into the void left by Chandler Jones. He shone as the team attempted to replicates Jones’ stellar production. In a year where Reddick saw his fifth-year option declined by the team, he was able to lead Arizona in sacks with 12.5. He also set a new single-game sack record with five against the New York Giants in Week 14. Consequently, Reddick is to be a highly rated free agent heading into the offseason. However, given salary restrictions, he might end up playing on a one-year ‘prove it’ deal.

2021 marks the second year in a row where GM Steve Keim has focused on bolstering the defensive line for Arizona. The Cardinals drafted two interior defensive linemen in the 2020 draft: Rashard Lawrence out of LSU, and Leki Fotu from Utah. In addition, although overshadowed by the Hopkins trade, the Cardinals were also able to add both outside linebacker Devon Kennard and 2019 standout defensive end Jordan Phillips via free agency.

How the Defensive Line Might Look With J.J. Watt

Throughout his career, J.J. Watt has been a dominant pass rusher as a 3-4 defensive end. He has seen some deployment as an outside defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Yet, in Vance Joseph‘s system though, Watt’s best work will be done on the interior. Bookended by Jones and Reddick, Watt adds a comprehensive to the Cardinals’ pass rush. Jones’ numbers over the past few seasons have masked the fact that Arizona has been unable to generate consistent pressure, particularly on the interior. Unfortunately, the risk of relying on Jones, or edge rush in general, is significant; in his limited playing time, Jones struggled in 2020 as offseason acquisitions like Phillips didn’t live up to expectations.

Ian Rapoport reported that Watt would play opposite Chandler Jones for the Cardinals. However, this is likely much more in the sense that two stars will play in tandem throughout the year. In fact, J.J. Watt offers fluidity in terms of what looks the Arizona pass rush can present. Therefore, Cardinals fans should expect to see Watt lined up both opposite and, on occasion, next to Chandler Jones. Lining up Watt and Jones next to one another might, however, be dependant on the performance of whoever occupies the other outside linebacker spot. Should the pieces all fall together, the Cardinals look forward to a three-pronged attack of Watt, Jones and Reddick. With improvement from Jordan Phillips, the unit will present a formidable challenge to any offensive line as the Cardinals look to ramp up their pursuit of the NFC West title.

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