It’s fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had some very good pass rushers over the course of their history. It’s also fair to say that, at least by the metric of sacks, none of them have gotten off to a better start in their career than has T.J. Watt.
With his two-sack performance on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he set a new franchise record for the most sacks recorded in the first two seasons of a player’s career, now with 17 over his first 25 games, which includes 10 this season. As you might have heard, he is the first outside linebacker and the second defender overall to post 10 or more sacks for the Steelers in a single season since 2010.
Watt came into the game tied for what was at the time the second-most sacks in team history in a player’s first two seasons, sharing that distinction with defensive end Keith Willis, with 15. But it’s worth noting that Willis only played in 23 games in his first two seasons, with four starts. Watt has started and played in 25 games.
Willis’ mark stood for 25 years from 1983 until LaMarr Woodley broke it in 2008, posting 15 and a half sacks in 28 games and 15 starts over the course of his first two seasons. That included 11 and a half sacks in 15 games (all starts) in 2008, the year they won the Super Bowl.
Only seven players in team history have managed to reach 10 sacks by the end of their second season, which admittedly says a lot about their history of grooming players, particularly pass-rushers, over a long period of time. Neither James Harrison nor Jason Gildon, the two players with the most sacks in franchise history, are among the names on the list.
Other than Watt, Woodley, and Willis, other players whose last names do not begin with a W have also hit double digits. Kendrell Bell, who had nine sacks as a rookie inside linebacker, finished his second season with 13 for his career. Joey Porter had 12 and a half sacks, including 10 and a half in 16 games in year two. Chad Brown and Keith Gary both had 11 and a half sacks by the end of their second seasons as well.
Watt has recorded at least one sack in five of the Steelers’ first 10 games, so one figures that he should be able to pick up at least three more sacks over the course of the team’s final six games. If he does so, he will become the first player in franchise history to reach 20 sacks by the end of his second season.
Just out of curiosity, Watt’s 17 sacks are already tied for the fifth-most in team history by the end of a player’s third season. Woodley’s 29 sacks is his target and is a clear outlier, as number two Porter is at 21 and a half. 13 sacks over the course of the next 22 days is certainly more than doable for Watt to keep pace for the best start to a career in producing sacks in Steelers history.