The NFL's most marketable player has never thrown a touchdown. He's never been to the Super Bowl and he's never been MVP, although he's come close.
But after one of the best years of any defensive player in recent memory, J.J. Watt's star has risen to unforseen heights. With the announcement this week that the hit HBO show "Hard Knocks" will follow Watt's Houston Texans in training camp, some experts say the 26-year-old has passed Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in terms of marketability.
JJ Watt will be the most marketable player in the NFL next year https://t.co/k2gLojMAAK
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 27, 2015
Watt's marketability starts with his strong play, which speaks for itself. He's been named Defensive Player of the Year twice in his first four seasons and he is the first player in NFL history to record two 20-plus sack seasons.
Watt has mastered the art of going viral, which is almost essential in this day and age. In fact, even when Watt fails at one of his athletic feats he still manages to make headlines.
It helps that Watt's story is not unlike the American dream. From a small town in Wisconsin, Watt started college as a tight end, delivered pizzas while an undergrad and was not selected in the top 10 of the 2011 NFL draft. He's trained at the same gym in Wisconsin since his sophomore year of high school. Even Drake would be proud of how Watt made his way from the bottom to where he is now.
“We love [Watt's] story," Seth Ader, ESPN’s senior director of marketing, told the Houston Chronicle in 2013. "He has a terrific personality, and we like to use athletes who are up and coming and whose trajectory is on the rise, and he was a perfect fit."
As a sign of just how rare it is for a defensive end to be as popular as Watt, he is the only defensive player whose jersey sales ranked in the top eight last year. He's so coveted by brands that he can forego the traditional companies and sign innovative packages with lesser-known rivals. He spurned Nike to sign a new endorsement deal with Reebok even though Reebok doesn't have the rights to have its logo on NFL fields. Watt's shoes will be unbranded in 2015. It's a gamble, sure, but much like Tom Brady did with Under Armour, Watt is tying himself to a smaller brand in hopes of one day watching it take off.
With Watt still only 26 years old and still in the midst of his prime, the sky is the limit both on and off the field for the kid from Pewaukee, Wis.