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Friday, March 18, 2011
Big Ten rankings: No. 2, J.J. Watt

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The 2010 Big Ten postseason player rankings continue with ...

No. 2: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin, Jr., 6-6, 292

Wisconsin's J.J. Watt
Big plays at key moments were what J.J. Watt was all about his final season in Madison.
2010 numbers: 62 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, one interception, eight passes defended, 10 quarterback hurries; finished second in the Big Ten in both sacks and tackles for loss (tied for seventh nationally in TFLs); tied for second in the Big Ten in forced fumbles; led Wisconsin in five categories (tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hurries, forced fumbles and blocked kicks) and ranked second in three others (tackles, pass breakups, passes defended); recorded every defensive statistic except safety en route to earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Preseason rank: No. 25 in the preseason top 25 players

Why he's here: I came very close to putting Watt in the top spot as no Big Ten defender made more impact plays than No. 99. Flip on pretty much any Wisconsin game from last season and you'll see Watt doing something -- sacking a quarterback, clogging a passing lane, forcing a fumble, blocking a kick -- to dramatically change the game. Watt had at least one tackle for loss in eight games, forced two fumbles in one contest and recovered two fumbles in another. Sometimes, his impressive numbers didn't even illustrate how much he affected a game, like in Wisconsin's victory against then-No. 1 Ohio State, a game where Watt was credited for two sacks and three tackles for loss.

Although Watt seemed primed for a big 2010 campaign -- it's why I included him in the preseason rundown -- he took his game up several notches this fall. The former Central Michigan tight end and pizza delivery guy who walked on at Wisconsin transformed himself into a likely first-round NFL draft pick. His production and leadership proved invaluable for a Wisconsin defense that helped the Badgers reach their first Rose Bowl in 11 seasons. We likely won't see another player make a similar rise like Watt's for quite some time.