The Pittsburgh Steelers in the age of the 3-4 have been at their best when they have had an elite edge defender. It was a while before they found a proper replacement for James Harrison at his height, but it certainly looks as though they have finally found one in T.J. Watt, their first-round pick in 2017.
Watt was the third outside linebacker the Steelers had down in the first round in a five-year span, starting with Jarvis Jones selected 17th overall in 2013—easily the worst pick of the Kevin Colbert era—and then Bud Dupree taken two years later in 2015. By then, people had grown skeptical of their ability to draft and develop the position.
Watt alleviated that fear and proved to be a productive player right out of the gate as a rookie, even though he was relatively new to the position. That he had NFL bloodlines—his oldest brother, J.J. Watt, is a generational talent and three-time Defensive Player of the Year—was of comfort in believing he would grow, and boy has he.
After registering 13 sacks and six forced fumbles in his second season in 2018, Watt topped those numbers again last season, finishing with 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. Many had him as the favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award himself, but while he did receive votes, he came up short, finishing third.
As the 2020 season approaches—eventually, hopefully—he is again considered among the favorites to win. According to BetOnline.com, he has the third-best odds at the moment, tied with his brother at +1100. The only two players who have been given better odds are Aaron Donald at +700, who has won the award twice, and Nick Bosa, who was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler, though he did not make the All-Pro team.
Unlike Bosa, however, Watt’s family doesn’t have any known ties to the mafia.
The Steelers have had more players win the Defensive Player of the Year Award than any other team, a category that they dominated in the 1970s, with Joe Greene winning it twice. Both Mel Blount and Jack Lambert also won. Later, Rod Woodson also claimed one. Harrison in 2008 and then Troy Polamalu most recently in 2010 have also won the award as Steelers.
Toward the middle of the 2019 season, Pittsburgh had two players who were considered frontrunners for the award. In addition to Watt, the recently-acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick was turning heads at that time with a flurry of interceptions and touchdowns. His production slowed down, but he, too, has his eyes set on the award. He currently is at +3300, tied for 16th-best odds along with several other defensive backs.