The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt being passed over for the Defensive Player of the Year Award in favor of Stephon Gilmore in 2019 was a bigger snub than his losing the award to Aaron Donald in 2020.
Explanation: There isn’t a defensive player in the NFL who has been better than T.J. Watt since the start of the 2019 season. According to voters, however, he wasn’t the best defensive player in either year individually, but over that span, he has 29.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, three interceptions, and a few dozen tackles for loss.
When you consider the fact that Xavien Howard only got a few votes for the Defensive Player of the Year Award this year, it makes it all the more remarkable that Stephon Gilmore was able to win it outright last season.
And you can certainly make the argument that Watt’s 2019 season was superior to his 2020 season. While it wasn’t as play-to-play consistent, as indicated by the increase in his volume of tackles for loss and quarterback hits, it was splashier, with six takeaways, and eight total forced fumbles.
In comparison, Watt only had one takeaway this past season, and two total forced fumbles, without recovering any. That is probably what ultimately did him in, with Aaron Donald producing four forced fumbles.
While Watt’s 2020 season may have lacked some takeaways, it made up for that in the routine plays. He might have been the most-prepared-for defender in the NFL this past year. Donald is consistently double-teamed, but so is Watt, so that argument becomes a wash.
And we shouldn’t overlook the fact that he had seven batted passes and passes defensed, which is impressive for his position. He was certainly as impactful on the Steelers’ defense as Donald was on the Rams’, who arguably has an even better secondary than Pittsburgh, helping Donald get pressure easily, and from closer to the quarterback.
I believe Watt is now the first player to lead the league in sacks, hits, and tackles for loss and not win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Nobody made more impactful defensive plays in the NFL this year than he did, period.