Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: OLB T.J. Watt
Stock Value: Up
Well, we might as well go for one of the obvious ones while we’re here. In his third season, T.J. Watt took his game to another level, now being recognized as one of the very top defensive players in all of football.
It’s been too long since we were able to say such a thing about a member of the Steelers’ defense. Not just a really good player. Not just one of the best at his position. But quite simply one of the best defenders on the field. The kind of player you would build a championship defense around.
That is what Watt didn’t just show signs of in 2019, but what he exhibited. With his 14.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and healthy does of tackles for loss and quarterback hits, he was a player that offensive coordinators worried about and gameplanned around.
Seemingly the only effective strategy that we saw last season used to neutralize him was to use heavy sets to force Watt to line up wide and then relentlessly chip him. You lose something in your range of weapons in the passing game doing that, but you immensely slow down the rush, and when he’s on the field, that tends to be your priority.
It’s actually somewhat interesting that Watt’s 2019 statistics don’t necessarily blow the doors off what he did a year ago—13 sacks with six forced fumbles—and yet it’s acknowledged that he had a much better season overall. That reality is in the statistics that you don’t typically see, in particular in his win rate off the line of scrimmage and his pressure percentage. Those are areas in which he greatly improved from the 2018 season.
We will learn in a little over a week whether or not Watt will be honored with the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He is recognized as one of the leading contenders, but it’s not a shoe-in by any means, with others such as Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Donald also in consideration.