After two years of being a runner-up, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt finally won a much-deserved Defensive Player of the Year Award for his performance during the 2021 season, which included his tying an NFL record with 22.5 sacks during the season. He also recorded five forced fumbles and had seven passes defensed, while leading the league in tackles for loss.
Apparently that wasn’t enough to impress Pro Football Focus, which just published its list of the top 101 players of the 2021 season. He barely cracked the top 20, placing at exactly 20—one spot behind his teammate, Cameron Heyward, a fellow first-team All-Pro, who placed 19th. Sam Monson writes of Watt:
The sack total gets all of the publicity, but Watt is an all-around excellent player who specializes in impact plays. He generated five forced fumbles, and his sacks represented 22 of his 62 pressures over the course of the season. Watt seems to be able to maintain an unusually strong ability to “finish” pressures and convert them into sacks, as he often makes the most valuable plays for his defense in the biggest moments.
It all sounds lovely, even though he is the seventh defensive player in their rankings. Rated higher than Watt are Aaron Donald at two, Myles Garrett at seven, Micah Parsons at ten, Maxx Crosby at 12, Kevin Byard at 17, and Heyward at 19. In other words, Watt is the fourth-best edge defender and sixth-best front seven player, according to the outlet. But they do give Heyward his due, who ranked 29th last year:
Heyward continues to be the interior defensive lineman who is putting the most pressure on Donald at the top of the rankings. For the second season in his last three, Heyward posted a 90-plus PFF grade, racking up a massive 46 defensive stops and 61 pressures. Heyward is playing the best football of his career and is outstanding in all facets of play. T.J. Watt gets all of the recognition up front on Pittsburgh’s defense, but Heyward was just as good this season.
Watt and Heyward were the only two Steelers to make the top 101 players list this year. They were also the only two players who made the list in 2020, even though they also had Minkah Fitzpatrick as a member of the first-team All-Pro team (Heyward was actually second-team that year). Watt was ranked ninth on their list a year ago, so he fell ten spots.
In spite of the fact that they seemingly only casually insert Watt into such a low position, it will certainly be noted elsewhere that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year barely cracked the top 20 best players in the league, and indeed wasn’t even in the top five defensive players. At least, Steelers fans will notice. I know I did.