Few players on the Pittsburgh Steelers are more important to team success than star outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
Though he’s not on the level of importance as Ben Roethlisberger overall, Watt has clearly worked his way into the discussion as the best player overall on the Steelers’ roster and a key piece to championship hopes in just four short seasons.
Now, with a league-record contract extension looming, Watt continues to be showered with praise and expectations as CBS Sports recently named the star pass rusher the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player ahead of the 2021 season.
Previously, Watt won the Steelers’ team MVP award in 2019 and 2020, and looks to make it a three-peat in the Steel City. No player has won the Steelers’ MVP award three years in a row, but Watt joined some prestigious company to win back-to-back team MVPs in 2020, as outside linebacker James Harrison was the last to do it in 2007 and 2008, along with Hines Ward (2002, 2003), linebacker Levon Kirkland (1998, 1999), running back Jerome Bettis (1996, 1997) and quarterback Terry Bradshaw (1977, 1978).
Should Bleacher Report’s prediction come true in 2021, Watt will reach new heights in Steelers’ history, claiming the award — as voted on by teammates — for the third straight season.
“Had it not been for Aaron Donald’s generational play as of late, T.J. Watt is likely your reigning Defensive Player of the Year for 2020. The Steelers pass rusher led the NFL with 15 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss while also totaling 53 tackles and an eye-popping 61 pressures. Watt was a main reason why Pittsburgh had the No. 1 defensive in the NFL last year in terms of DVOA and he’ll continue to be asked to be the face of that unit heading into 2021,” CBS Sports writes. “Ben Roethlisberger is likely heading into the final year of his career and the Steelers would like for nothing else than to end his tenure with a playoff run. For that to happen, this Pittsburgh defense will need to continue to wreak havoc on opposing offenses while being led by Watt.”
Watt will had a lot of eyes on him in 2021, especially with a massive new contract likely in hand, along with the added attention of trying to carry the load at outside linebacker for the Steelers after the loss of Bud Dupree in free agency to the Tennessee Titans, and second-year pro Alex Highsmith trying to grow into his role as a starter opposite the All-Pro.
Fortunately for Watt, the Steelers still have a dominant front seven overall, with the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward returning at defensive end, and a healthy Tyson Alualu back at nose tackle to tie up some blockers. Though the loss of Dupree hurts Watt in ways that the naked eye can see, the All-Pro pass rusher should still be able to put up monster numbers, and could even find himself passing a number of legendary names on the Steelers’ all-time sacks list in the process.