Don’t you dare make the foolish mistake of asking T.J. Watt about how he feels about his development and where he considers himself to be. The third-year Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker has been one of the most accomplished edge defenders in the NFL this season, sitting third in the NFL in sacks and tied for second in forced fumbles, but his priority is the plays he’s not making.
After answering questions about watching Bud Dupree and the progress he’s made in his fifth season, a reporter asked Watt yesterday about where he felt he was. “Nowhere I want to be. I’d be a fool to say I’m where I want to be”, he said.
“I’m just continually trying to maximize my potential week in and week out”, the 2018 Pro Bowler went on. “There’s so much film that I watch on myself week to week after games and there are so many plays left out there that I want to make. Just want to get better every day, and that’s the great thing about football, is you’re never gonna fully reach that potential, but you strive for it every day”.
Watt is also among the league leaders in quarterback hits and in tackles for loss, and has clearly been among the most disruptive defenders in the NFL, but he also understands that even good plays in which he is getting pressure could be better, could be finished. Especially following last week’s game in which Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was able to make a number of plays after escaping pressure, including from Watt.
Even as he laments the plays that he’s leaving on the field, however, he is still making more than enough to position himself in the discussion as one of the best defenders in football right now. And Dupree’s improvement this year has the duo in the conversation for the best pass-rushing tandem in the NFL.
Watt feels that their on-field relationship is a part of that, because they mutually benefit from one another. “I think that’s the cool thing about me and Bud”, he said. “We play similar, but not totally, so I can learn off of him and he can learn off of me, so it makes it a cool relationship”.
While Dupree is due to pick up another sack or two here and there, between them, they have combined for 16.5 sacks on the year, and are on pace to become the first outside linebacker duo to hit that number since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley both hit double digits in 2010.