In their yearly awards, T.J. Watt is the lone Pittsburgh Steeler to make NFL.com’s All-Pro team. Compiled by Nick Shook, Watt is a no-brainer add (unless you’re like some outlets) but Cam Heyward was left off the list.
First, Watt’s inclusion. Here’s what Shook had to write about his historic season.
“After taking down Baker Mayfield four times in a Week 17 win over the Browns, Watt found himself ahead of everyone else in the NFL in sacks and staring history in the face. Then with one sack of Tyler Huntley a week later in the season finale, Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5). Watt also posted 60 quarterback pressures, a 16.3 percent pressure rate, 13 run stuffs (tackle for 1 or fewer yards on run play), 54 stops (tackle on a play that results in negative EPA for offense) and three turnovers caused by QB pressure. Add in the fact that he played just 65 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps, and you have a complete résumé. Watt has built a very strong case for Defensive Player of the Year.”
Shook outlines his season well with old-school and new-school metrics. He states the case for Watt winning Defensive Player of the Year as well as anyone, and Watt is considered a frontrunner but competing with the likes of Myles Garrett, Aaron Donald, and Micah Parsons. It’s also worth pointing out Watt drops into coverage about 10% of the time, reducing his chances for impact plays as a pass rusher.
Where Steelers fans are likely to disagree with Shook’s list is the exclusion of Cam Heyward from the All-Pro list. His rankings included a pair of defensive tackles. Aaron Donald took his annual place on the list, but the other went to Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons. Shook lauded Simmons’ up-and-coming play and production, finishing the year with 8.5 sacks.
Simmons is a great, underrated talent in a similar position Heyward was years ago before his designation from DE to DT. But the stats aren’t much of a contest. Heyward has more tackles, sacks, QB hits, tackles for loss, pass deflections, and forced fumbles than Simmons.
Perhaps the fact Heyward is part of the Steelers’ 32nd-ranked run defense hurts him in Shook’s eyes, but that is hardly the fault of Heyward. Without him, they’d be even worse. Hopefully, Heyward isn’t snubbed when the official AP voting takes place in the coming weeks.
Others from the AFC North on Shook’s list include Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase and EDGE Trey Hendrickson (a surprising choice), Ravens K Justin Tucker, and Browns OG Joel Bitonio.