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JJ Watt critical of analytics used to judge pass rushers; is in favor of Eagles’ onside kick proposal

It might be the offseason, but JJ Watt isn’t taking time any off. 

Watt, a future Hall of Fame defensive lineman, recently completed his first year as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. He’s keeping himself plenty busy, between his and wife, Kealia’s, role as minority investors in Burnley F.C., raising a 1-year-old, training with younger brother T.J. Watt and getting in his rounds on the golf course. 

Watt has also partnered up with DICK’S Sporting Goods to promote DICK’S House of Sport, a one-of-a-kind experience that gives you the chance to play several different sports while shopping for your favorite sporting goods. 

CBS Sports recently caught up with Watt to discuss the partnership along with several other topics, including possible rule changes coming to the NFL, the pros and cons of analytics, and new ways he is helping his younger brother have success on the gridiron. 

There’s been several proposals put forward this offseason regarding special teams. Is there one proposal you specifically think would help improve that area of the game? I personally like the Eagles’ proposal for an onside kick alternative that gives scoring teams a chance to keep the ball by converting a 4th-and-20 from their own 20-yard line. 

“Something needs to be done about the kickoff. Everybody seems to be trying to figure out how to address it. I think when it comes to the onside kicks specifically, I personally also like the one down to see if you can get it, and if you’t don’t, you turn it over right there. I like that one a lot. 

“I think that would be fascinating. It would take a lot for the league to get to that point because of how radical of a change it is. But I think it would create that much more excitement.”

“Just imagine. End of a game, 15 seconds left, your team lines up and it’s 4th-and-20, it just sounds so fascinating. But when they’re making decisions, I know they also have to imagine that happening in the Super Bowl this year and what type of reaction fans would have to that. 

“There aren’t easy decisions to make, but I do think everybody knows that there needs to be something done about the kickoff.” 

How do you assess some of the new analytics that have seemed to replace the traditional ways we use to evaluate pass rushers? It seems like win and pressure rates are weighed heavier now than sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for loss, etc. 

“It’s a very fascinating time. I think that there are a lot of businesses out there who can make a lot of money by trying to come up with things that seem extremely smart and try and give people information that they think is providing value that may or may not be. 

“I think there are a lot of analytics that are extremely beneficial and useful, especially in certain black and white situations. Like, when a team lines up in 11 or 12 personnel, is it or isn’t it a blitz? Things like that, where it’s standard, cut and dry, I think we absolutely need those analytics. 

“The problems that I have are when we get into grading players based off of analysis that a person came up with in an algorithm that somebody came up with and then we’re putting a number or a grade off it. It starts to be a slippery slope when you judge off of those things. 

“As it comes to percentage win rates and things like that versus traditional numbers, I mean, are we going to start giving wins based on who should have won the most percentage of plays in that game? Are we going to start giving the Super Bowl to the team that has the highest percentage of time won throughout the year? 

“A sack is a sack, a win that didn’t result in a sack is not a sack. You could be leading the game 99% of the game, and lose that game on the last play. You lost, you’re 0-1 in the column. In my opinion, I’m just a believer in sacks, TFLs, touchdowns. Those are the things that we can quantify and justify.” 

Speaking of pass rushers, it’s hard to believe that T.J. is going to turn 30 this season. Are you still doing a lot of physical work with him or is it more mental now? 

“It’s a little bit of both. We work out together at times, but not full-time. I’m thankful that I don’t have to train like an NFL player anymore. I still can and I still do often. Definitely the running has taken a back seat. The lifting is still basically the same. But I also try to mentor him in matters that I learned over my career. Things that I learned, especially later in my career and things that I think may have helped elongate my career or helped avoid injuries. Those are the things I try and pass on to him. 

“I want to have made those mistakes so he doesn’t have to make those mistakes. Those are the things that I try pass on to him.” 

You’re still beating T.J. on the golf course, though?

“I wish I was getting significantly better. We did play together a week or two ago and I did win. I guess the retired guy should win. It would be pretty bad if I lost to him at golf because he doesn’t have as much time.”

What’s the biggest different between you guys on the golf course? 

“He’s significantly better in his short game. Chipping around the green, he’s better at. He and I both struggle off the tee. But I made the very controversial — I’m not proud of it — decision to bag my driver, and I’m going 3 wood off the tee now, which has done wonders for my score but it does hurt my pride.”  

What can you tell us about your new partnership with DICK’s House of Sport?

“It such a natural, exciting and joyful partnership for me. Being an athlete my entire life, having been a child before and still probably a 6’6, 275-pound, 6-year-old in my heart, DICK’s House of Sport is my heaven. I walk into that store and I look around, there’s so many things to do. … From the rock climbing wall, to the track bay, the golf simulator, the batting cages, there’s countless amounts of things to do.”

It seems like one of the benefits of DICK’s House of Sport is that it gives young people the chance to try several sports out while possibly introducing them to something new. 

“I think you’re 100% right. Walking into a store like that as a child and seeing all the possibilities is eye-opening in its own right. You can picture yourself doing more, and then you can actually go and physically do it. 

“I played hockey as a kid, so I’d walk into a hockey store, and I’d never played goalie in my life, but I’d still go over the goalie gear and see what that felt like. I actually fell in love with being a goalie and never became one myself. That’s what you’re talking about. You’ve got a kid who loves baseball, but he sees that golf simulator or that basket hoop and wants to try those things. 

“In a world where we are currently single-sport specializing too much — in my opinion — for children, I think it’s extremely important for kids to play as many sports as possible. If you can go to your local DICK’S House of Sport and try out a bunch of different ones to see what you like, it’s more beneficial.” 

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