T.J. Watt may have been snubbed two years running for the prestigious Defensive Player of the Year Award, but he had received the next-best thing, which is the recognition of Nick Shook, an NFL Network writer who listed him as the top disruptor in the NFL for the 2020 season, ahead of the likes of Aaron Donald, Joey Bosa, and Myles Garrett, whose economic stratosphere he will soon breach.
The metric Shook uses is simple: disruption rate, which he defines as the total number of plays, by percentage of total pass-rush snaps played, in which a player registers a sack, hit, or hurry (or multiple on one play, counting as one disruption snap).
The Steelers’ defensive ace posted the highest disruption rate in the NFL last season by this metric, going by Next Gen Stats, recording a disruption on 18.4 percent of his pass rush snaps, including a sack rate of 3.4 percent and 80 total disruptions.
The older Bosa brother finished second in disruption rate last season with 17.6 percent, with Trey Hendrickson third at 17.5, Myles Garrett a somewhat distant fourth at 15.7, and, actually, Bud Dupree essentially tied with him at the same rounded percentage. Donald was sixth. Shook writes of Watt:
For much of 2020, it seemed as if Watt was bound to join his brother as a Defensive Player of the Year award winner. He was a force, especially when he was afforded the opportunity to line up opposite Bud Dupree. However, Watt’s aforementioned decline following Dupree’s injury and a strong finish from world-renowned interior terror Aaron Donald swung the award away from Watt in the season’s final weeks. The Next Gen Stats show that the Steelers star was indeed the best at disrupting opposing offenses, though. Watt led the league in disruptions (80), racking up that total on 435 pass-rushing snaps for a rate of 18.4 percent, which also was the best in the NFL. He was tops in pro football in sacks, too, with 15. Essentially, every pass-rushing metric we want to explore responds by shouting “T.J. WATT” at us, as if we’re asking a magic mirror who’s the most disruptive of them all. He provided league-best production despite sitting out in Week 17, too. Another season like this would be hard to ignore when deciding Defensive Player of the Year.
I think it’s certainly debatable that there was a decline in Watt’s performance, or at least a significant one, after Bud Dupree’s injury—he still kept the same sack-per-game pace, for example, though he had a lower percentage of quarterback hits—but either way, he remained elite, as he shows nearly every time he takes the field.
Dupree, of course, is now with the Tennessee Titans after signing there as an unrestricted free agent. The former first-round pick stepped up his game significantly over the past two seasons, statistically, and that’s going to be hard to replace, a job that falls upon the shoulders of Alex Highsmith.