The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt will surpass LaMarr Woodley’s first-five-season sack total of 48.
Explanation: Although the team’s record for the most sacks in a five season span I believe is 54 (jointly owned by Jason Gildon and James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley’s 48 sacks in his first five seasons is the most to begin a career in Steelers history. T.J. Watt has recorded 20 sacks in his first two years, the most for a Steeler, and is obviously on-pace to surpass Woodley’s total in three years.
Based on the fact that he was continually improving over the course of the 2018 season in which he recorded 13 sacks, it’s hard to bet against him becoming a consistent double-digit sack guy. After having seven sacks as a rookie, he almost doubled that total to set the tone for what his future might hold.
Nobody in Steelers history has begun his career in this way. Woodley recorded 11 and a half sacks in his second season, which was his first as a full-time starter. He followed that up with a career-high 13 and a half in year three, and then had another 10 in 2010. He was primed to keep going until a mid-season hamstring injury pretty much signaled the end of his dominance. He had nine sacks on the year at that point and was looking like an MVP possibility.
Watt is every bit as talented, motivated, and driven as Woodley was, so there’s no reason to think he can’t duplicate that feat.
He can duplicate, even surpass it, but it’s dangerous to make predictions. For one thing, no player in Steelers history has ever recorded more than three double-digit seasons for sacks, at least while with the Steelers. Kevin Greene had two in Pittsburgh, in three years, but 10 for his entire career. Gildon, Harrison, and Woodley are the only players in Steelers history to have three 10-plus-sack seasons.
Another thing to consider is the fact that Watt has, up to this point in his career, been a good finisher when he does generate pressure, but that can vary quite a bit. Pressure rate is a more consistent barometer than sack rate, which can fluctuate. You can have a nine-sack season that was more productive than a 14-sack year.