It's not an exaggeration to suggest that deciding when to draft J.J. Watt is the single most important strategy question for redraft owners this year.
You may not like my simple answer. Which, of course, is -- "It depends." But I can frame the data to help you decide when you can be comfortable drafting Watt.
By relative value, Watt's 2012 season was the most impressive season I have ever seen. 68 solo tackles, 20.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles / fumble recoveries and 16 passes defensed put Watt (235 points in FBG standard scoring) way ahead of Greg Hardy (138) and Cameron Wake (136) in balanced scoring leagues. Nearly 100 points and 170% better. That's the equivalent of the difference between last year's QB1 and QB22. Watt probably won some shallow roster IDP leagues single-handedly.
If you think Watt can repeat those numbers this year, you should draft him first overall. In almost any scoring system.
For reference, 68 solos and 20 sacks isn't the equivalent of Cy Young's 511 wins. Jason Pierre-Paul finished with 67 solos and 17 sacks in 2011. Many defensive ends have tallied more than 16 sacks in the past decade. Jared Allen had 66 solos in 2006. Aaron Kampman and Michael Strahan pushed the 60-10 plateau in their careers.
But it's not just topping the 60-15 barrier that's important. What Watt's competition does matters just as much. An elite fantasy defensive end usually puts up between 150-180 points. If Watt drops to 55-58 solos and 15-17 sacks -- still a monster season -- he'll likely finish somewhere between 160-190 points. If a small handful of other defensive ends improve in the 145-165 range, much of Watt's relative value goes away. Without going into a long discussion of regression to the mean -- Chase Stuart does it better than anyone -- that outcome is more likely than a repeat of 2012.
So, that leaves the following scenarios to consider in leagues of all scoring systems and in most lineup requirements.
1. You believe that Watt has a very strong chance of equalling or exceeding his 2012 numbers in 2013.
This isn't a crazy argument. Watt arguably was limited by an elbow injury for much of the season. He had no one else to draw the attention of opposing offensive lines. He's just as good against the run as he rushing the passer. He's still just 24 years old.
And he eats burritos bigger than Ray Rice.
If you feel this strongly about Watt, forget about regression to the mean (both for Watt and his competition) and strongly consider taking Watt in the first two rounds of your draft.
Yes, the first two rounds.
2. You believe that Watt will have a strong season, but isn't a lock to top the 55-15 barrier and you like a handful of players in the elite tiers to reach the 45-12 plateau or better.
If you're in this camp, you need to have a firm grasp on your upper tiers at every position. If you think this is the most likely scenario for Watt, you'll need to start considering him in the third round. But if you put Watt in a must-have category, understand what that means for the first few rounds of your draft at other positions. Taking Watt in the first five rounds will make it very difficult to pull the trigger on Jimmy Graham in the first or second round or a quarterback anywhere in the first five rounds. It's not necessarily an incorrect start to your draft. Watt and Graham are elite relative advantage players. But if you double up on them early, your running back and wide receiver slots will suffer.
You'll also need to have some idea of where your leaguemates might value a stud IDP. If your league drafted Patrick Willis before Round 4 in 2008, 2009 or 2010 or Jason Pierre-Paul before Round 4 last season, you may have to prepare to go one round higher to get Watt this year. If you're league is usually asleep at the wheel on the relative value of IDPs, you can wait and jump on Watt in Round 5.
3. You appreciate the value of Watt but would rather target another elite defensive end some rounds later while rostering offensive players in rounds 3-8.
Easy enough. Consider Watt in rounds 6-8 as a strong option alongside the RB2/3 and WR3/4 tiers. Don't be afraid to switch gears and grab Watt in this scenario. The potential upside in Watt is too much to ignore in those rounds. You must remain flexible enough in your draft planning to take advantage when your leaguemates hand you gifts of extreme value.
Look for the Watt Question to figure prominently in the first version of the IDP Perfect Draft feature in early August. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com and follow on Twitter @JeneBramel.
More from Jene Bramel:
Reading the Defense: Defensive Line Tiers [Post Free Agency] - March 26
Reading the Defense: Defensive Free Agency Review - March 19
Reading the Defense: Defensive Free Agency Running Blog - March 12
Reading the Defense: Linebacker Tiers [First 2015 Update] - March 4
Reading the Defense: Defensive Line Tiers [First 2015 Update] - February 24
Welcome, RB19. The NFL Will See You Now: The Combine Medical Exam - February 18
Reading the Defense: Coaching and Scheme Changes - February 10
Gameday Injury Expectations: Week 16 - December 21
Sunday IDP Notes: Week 16 - December 21
Inside the Injury Report: Week 16 - December 18