Make no mistake, when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted J.J. Watt’s younger brother in 2017, there were some skeptics who questioned whether or not he was worth a first-round selection and if he could live up to that family name. I know they were out there because I was one of them, but I accepted the fact that I was wrong about him early on.
Making the Pro Bowl in his second season this year after posting 13 sacks and six forced fumbles, T.J. Watt has emerged as one of the top defenders the Steelers have had in years, and the sky still appears to be the limit for him. Especially if you listen to his teammate, Cameron Heyward, the other Steelers defender in the Pro Bowl this year.
“I hate to do this to J.J., but I think T.J. can be better one day”, he said at the Pro Bowl this past week. “I am not saying next year. I am not saying the year after, but T.J.’s got all of the tools. The kid works at his craft. I know he has never shied away from work. J.J. won’t either, so it’s going to be a battle there for years to come. T.J. works at every part of his game”.
In fact, the two of them work together in the offseason. After all, they are brothers. They root hard for each other whenever they are not playing against one another, and they want the best for one another. But J.J. Watt set about as high a ceiling as you realistically can.
J.J., who came in the same year as Heyward in 2011 via the first round, has been the Defensive Player of the Year three times already, and even coming back from a pair of injury years in 2016 and 2017 in which he only played in five games was able to post 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles this year season for the Houston Texans. Advantage, older brother.
There are exactly two players in NFL history who have recorded more than two seasons with 16 or more sacks in NFL history. One is the legendary Reggie White. The other is J.J. Watt. Literally nobody else in NFL history has yet to accomplish that feat more than twice, and no active player has done so. The most recent was Elvis Dumervil. Aaron Donald just notched his first this past year with 20 and a half sacks.
Can Watt conceivably put up those sorts of numbers? It’s true that he is still growing into his game and learning and improving—his pass rush repertoire not only expanded, but grew in confidence as the 2018 went on—but sacks can be a tricky thing.
I don’t care if T.J. can one day be better than J.J. Frankly, I would settle for him being half as good as J.J. at his best, one of the most dominant defensive players in recent memory.