The Pittsburgh Steelers not only have nothing left to play for this season—they don’t even have any games left to play. In what is an uncommon, yet not quite rare enough occurrence, the Steelers were one of the 20 teams who failed to reach postseason play, and are now officially transitioning to offseason mode.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing awaiting select members of the team in terms of post-season awards. With five players having already been recognized for the Pro Bowl, there are surely others in the running to be added as alternates, and there is the All-Pro list announcement in the offing.
Then there is the Defensive Player of the Year Award, for which third-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt should be regarded as a leading candidate. He finished the season in the top five in many key defensive statistics, including 14.5 sacks. He also led the league with eight forced fumbles, while also intercepting two passes and recovering four fumbles.
All of the work that he put in to produce his best season to date saw him recognized by Pro Football Focus as their Breakout Player of the Year. While this is, of course, not an actual award, it’s still an honor for him to be recognized for the extensive growth he put on display in emerging as one of the top players in the NFL.
“This season he broke out into being not just a useful young pass rusher, but a true game-changer for the Steelers and one of the best defensive players in the game”, wrote Sam Monson. While noting that he “was a pretty good player right off the bat” as a rookie in 2017, Monson wrote, “this past season, though, is when he took things to another level”.
He notes that Watt finished the season with 81 total pressures, which was the fifth-most in the NFL, noting that he made strides not just in terms of recording consistent pressure, but also making game-changing plays while doing so.
“Ultimately, there were plenty of deserving breakout candidates this season”, Monson concluded, “but nobody more so than T.J. Watt, who leapt out of the shadow of his older brother to become one of the most dominant defenders in the NFL in his own right”.
J.J. Watt is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Will his younger brother join him in receiving that honor, and in doing so become the first siblings ever to win the award in NFL history? Meanwhile, J.J. was officially activated from the Reserve/Injured List, and T.J. will be out in Houston to cheer his brother on as the Houston Texans host the Buffalo Bills.