TJ Watt narrowly missed out on cracking the top ten on Pro Football Focus’ list of the Top 50 players in the NFL, coming in at #11. Here’s what author Sam Monson wrote about the Steelers’ star defender:
“Watt has been right on the verge of Defensive Player of the Year levels over the last two seasons and may well have won one by now if not for the perennially absurd play of Aaron Donald. Over that same period, Watt has earned the highest overall PFF grade among all edge rushers (92.6) as well as the best pass-rushing grade (92.2). He leads all edge rushers with 12 batted passes and even has three interceptions to his name. Watt has become a dominant force on the edge for Pittsburgh and consistently looks to be one of the very best players in the league.”
Can’t disagree with any of the praise there. Watt has continued to find ways to get better, increasing his sack total year-by-year. Here how his numbers have increased.
And that 2020 figure came in only 15 games. Researching this stat would be a bit difficult but I don’t know if there’s ever been a Steelers’ edge rusher who has increased his sack output for four-straight seasons. Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, James Harrison, nor LaMarr Woodley ever managed to pull it off.
Now, it’s a question of if Watt can up the ante in 2021. Surpassing 15 sacks is tough but he’ll have the benefit of a 17-game season. Watt will also have to deal with crowd noise this year. Last year, he took advantage of mostly or completely empty arenas in order to pick up on verbal cues (QB cadence, offensive line calls, etc) to better time the snap count. That’ll be much harder to do this season.
As we recently wrote about, if Watt can hit even just 13 sacks again, he’ll become just the second player, joining Reggie White, as the only two to officially do it four years in a row.
While quarterbacks are expected to dominate the list, it was a bit surprising – and disappointing – not to see Watt sneak into the back-half of the top ten. Are there really ten players in the league better than someone who is no worse than the second best defensive player in football? That’s gotta at least be worth the #10 spot.
The Steelers finish with two players in PFF’s Top 50. Watt at #11 and Cam Heyward at #31.