You won’t have to search long and hard to find accolades for T.J. Watt, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fifth-year premiere edge defender. He has made the Pro Bowl three times in his first four seasons, and was not just first-team All-Pro each of the past two years, but a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
At 26 years old, he’s also still very much in his prime. Over the past three seasons, he has 42.5 sacks, 98 hits, 16 forced fumbles, three interceptions, and 18 passes defensed—certainly a stat line you can put up against any edge defender in the NFL, with the 2020 season being perhaps his best.
That’s why he tops LaDainian Tomlinson’s list of the top five edge rushers entering the 2021 season, which he discussed recently on the NFL Total Access program on the league’s flagship cable channel, NFL Network.
“Number one, T.J. Watt. This is not J.J.’s little brother. This is J.J.’s younger brother”, he said. “This is a grown man. You’re talking about someone who can rush the passer; it’s not only about that. This guy hits the quarterback. Over the last two years, he has over 75 hits on the quarterback. This guy is an outstanding pass rusher. He’s a dog, and nobody wants any part of T.J. Watt”.
The AFC North boasts some premiere edge talent, of course, and Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, taken in the same first round as Watt, finished second on the list. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa was third, followed by Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, and finally, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, by far the most veteran player on the list.
Arguably the most notable confounding variable in Watt’s quest to retain his status as the top edge rusher in the league this season will be accounting for the loss of Bud Dupree, across from whom he has started almost every game of his career to date.
Dupree signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency as Watt himself prepares to sign an enormous extension within the next couple of months. Alex Highsmith, a 2020 third-round pick with two career sacks, will be the man tasked with providing Watt with support on the opposite edge.
While he always gives Dupree a ton of credit, though, one could easily surmise that Watt did a lot more for him than vice versa. Many believe that Watt’s success is largely independent of others, as much as could be the case in team sports.
Not only is he a great athlete in his own right, and is a true student of the game, he also has a very elite get-off, constantly giving him an edge off the snap time and again. As long as the rest of the front isn’t letting quarterbacks out of the pocket, the younger brother of the Watt family should keep knocking them down no matter who is across from him.