It will be several more weeks before we find out if Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is voted the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. While Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald appears to be the only other player with a somewhat legitimate chance at beating out Watt for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award, the Steelers outside linebacker should ultimately edge him out for the sheer fact that he led the NFL in three major statistical categories.
Not only did Watt lead the entire NFL in sacks in 2020 with 15, the former first round draft pick out of Wisconsin also led the entire league in tackles for loss (23) and quarterback hits (41). In case you’re scoring at home, Donald registered 13.5 sacks in 2020 to go along with 14 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits.
2020 marks the fourth time in the last 15 years that a player has led the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits in a single season, a triple crown feat of sorts. Two of the previous times it was Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the older brother of T.J., that accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2015. Both of those years he was crowned the Defensive Player of the Year.
The other time the triple crown feat has been accomplished in the last 15 years it was Donald that did it and that happened in 2018. Donald also won the Defensive Player of the Year award for his efforts as he registered 20.5 sacks that season to go along with 25 tackles for loss and 41 total quarterback hits that season.
Leading the league in all three of those statistical categories is obviously extremely hard to do. Not only did T.J. Watt accomplish that rare feat in 2020, but he did also in just 15 games played as well as the Steelers held him out of their regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 to rest him for the playoffs. The Steelers defense went on to register four sacks and four quarterback hits against the Browns and had Watt played in that game, he likely would have added to his defensive totals.
The winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award will be announced during the annual NFL Honors award show the week of the Super Bowl. While Donald might be deserving to be a candidate to win the award this year, it will be a huge upset if T.J. Watt doesn’t get it.
Watt, by the way, is now the first player in Steelers history with 14-plus sacks in multiple seasons and the seventh player to register at least 15 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in a single season since 1999. He’s the 14th player in NFL history with at least 14.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons.