The season that Pittsburgh Steelers’ star outside linebacker T.J. Watt is putting together is without a doubt worthy of the NFL’s Defensive Player of Year award, let alone some Most Valuable Player attention.
Through just 11 games, Watt has already set a career high with 16 sacks and has added 27 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries on the year.
His 16 sacks lead the NFL, which makes it all the more impressive that he’s been able to accumulate those numbers while also missing two games and parts of two more due to a groin injury.
Despite those impressive numbers, NFL.com’s Nick Shook believes that Watt is not the league’s favorite for DPOY, let alone even the second favorite. Putting together a list of the top 10 DPOY candidates in the league, Shook ranked Watt a surprising third behind Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Dallas Cowboys’ rookie Micah Parsons.
“Watt’s rate of production would place him atop this list, if he’d only been able to play in every game this season. Injuries are the main hurdle standing between Watt and the award many expected him to win in 2020. He’d already missed two games heading into last Thursday’s loss to Minnesota, which he then left early due to a groin injury,” Shook writes. “But when he’s been on the field, he’s still been very effective, posting the highest sack rate (6%) among rushers with a minimum of 250 pass rushes. His 44 total QB pressures are tied for 10th in the NFL, and his three turnovers caused by pressure are tied for eighth. Oh, and he leads the league in sacks despite missing roughly 10 quarters of football. He just hasn’t been as available as the others on this list, which might end up hurting his candidacy, even though his numbers have been fantastic.”
Shook does make a fair argument with the games missed for Watt. Dating back to at least 2010, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year has played in all 16 regular season games every single season, so there’s a historical precedent there, making it very difficult for Watt to make a case for the league’s highest honor for a defensive player.
What if Watt sets the league’s NFL sack record for a single season, and does it even prior to the new 17th regular season game? That feels like he’d have a great case to win the league’s DPOY — missed games not mattering — considering he’d be breaking a 20-year old league record that was set by NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.
It’s certainly a bit surprising to see Watt not ranked as the favorite here by Shook, but he makes a compelling case as to why the Steelers’ All-Pro doesn’t top the list. In the end though, I think Watt wins the award, especially after being robbed the last two years of the honor by then-New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore and current Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald.