In just 12 games played this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt has already accumulated a league-high 17.5 sacks. That is already the most in franchise history, and he has a shot at the NFL’s all-time single-season record, as well. But while he may have never put up quite this number before, he’s certainly not unfamiliar with bringing down the quarterback.
In fact, he is one of just two players to ever record at least 13 sacks in four consecutive seasons, the other being the legendary Reggie White, who actually did it twice. He had a league-leading 15 sacks last year, 14.5 the year before that, and 13 the year before that. Even as a rookie, he managed to put up seven sacks.
All in all, that gives him 67 sacks for his career—which is good for the third-most all-time by a player in his first five seasons. He trails only his older brother, J.J. Watt, and the aforementioned White as the only players to ever record more sacks, T.J. having just surpassed Derrick Thomas.
White recorded an astonishing 81 sacks in his first five seasons, obviously a huge help in his recording 198 in his career, the second-most all-time. J.J finished his first five years in the league with 74.5 sacks. With only three games to go and trailing his older brother by 7.5 sacks, it’s highly unlikely that he is able to catch up, so this is likely where he sticks.
Still, that certainly makes it no more impressive to be third only to Reggie White and J.J. Watt, one of the true legends of defensive football and one of just three players to ever win three Defensive Player of the Year Awards—even if Watt should already be tracking for his second or third now himself.
And not only does he have 67 sacks, he has 76 tackles for loss. He has 21 forced fumbles. He has four interceptions and 29 passes defensed. He is genuinely one of the elite defensive players in the game today, and has continued to solidify his reputation more and more with each passing season.
Watt has virtually been able to record sacks at will this year, such is the pace that he’s been on. It’s only a shame that he has dealt with minor injuries virtually all season, missing two games and extensive portions of three others, while also spending a few games meaningfully playing through injury. If he had had the same level of health that some of his peers have, he may already have the sack record, or so it seems, and he’d be making a run at J.J. and Reggie.
For the completionists, Pro Football Reference has Al Baker with 74 sacks in his first five seasons, and Deacon Jones with 68.5 in his. These statistics were registered prior to the sack era in 1982 (excepting Baker’s fifth season), and thus do not officially count as sacks. Baker was credited with 23 sacks as a rookie in 1978