Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t get a vote on Defensive Player of the Year. But if he did, he knows exactly who he’d cast your ballot for. T.J. Watt, coming off a historically strong season, somehow finding ways to raise the bar year after year. He spoke with the media Tuesday morning on what makes Watt such a special player.
“I would say is his ability to make plays,” he said via Steelers.com. “That’s a guy of his caliber and that’s what he really specializes in. When plays are needed, T.J. shows up.”
When plays are needed, T.J. shows up. As good of a campaign slogan as I’ve ever seen.
Only Chicago’s Robert Quinn had more third/fourth down sacks than Watt’s nine this season, validating Fitzpatrick’s claim. That doesn’t even account for plays that didn’t show up so obviously on the stat sheet, like his pressure of Lamar Jackson on the Ravens’ two-point conversion try to win the game. The pass fell incomplete because of Watt bearing down on the throw.
Watt finished 2021 with 22.5 sacks, 23.5 if you include postseason play. They are the most sacks in a single season in NFL history when combining regular and postseason play.
Most Sacks Single Season (NFL History)
1. T.J. Watt – 23.5 (2021)
2. Richard Dent – 23.0 (1985)
2. Al Baker – 23.0 (1978)
4. Michael Strahan – 22.5 (2001)
Watt picked up a sack late in Sunday’s Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, pushing him into that top spot.
Fitzpatrick praised Watt’s dedication to the game as a key reason in his incredible success.
“He’s another guy who is passionate about his game. There’s not too many people in the building who are in the building more than him. Take care of his body, watch the film, in the weight room. He just loves the game, passionate about the game, cares about his teammates. He’s a great teammate.”
Watt’s been regarded as a hard worker for years, blessed with that classic Watt “rent is due every day” in his DNA. He focuses on things big and small and has repeatedly found creative ways to gain an edge, like listening to the broadcast copy of games last year to pick up on cadence cues that would help him fire off the ball. Teammates said Watt would share that information with them to make the whole group better. It’s no coincidence the Steelers have recorded 50+ sacks in every year since Watt was drafted, leading or tied for the league lead each season since 2017. That ties an NFL record.
Watt is considered the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. Fitzpatrick would be shocked if he doesn’t.
“If he doesn’t win it this year, it’s crazy. It’s rigged.”
Rams’ DT Aaron Donald is likely to be his closest competition. They were the only two defensive players to receive unanimous All-Pro voting. But Watt had ten more sacks than Donald, and though they’re both incredible, Canton-bound players, Watt is likely to edge him out this season and finally capture some overdue hardware.
“Definitely blessed to be part of a team with a player like him,” Fitzpatrick said of Watt.
Fitzpatrick will be back playing with him in 2022. And hopefully Fitzpatrick, like Watt in 2021, will be doing so with a fat new contract under his belt.