It took five years and two arguable snubbings but T.J. Watt won his first Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2021. If he can find a way to do it again, he’ll join an incredibly exclusive club of defensive players to win back-to-back DPOY Awards.
The list is as notable as it is short. Just three have done it: Lawrence Taylor in 1981 and 1982, big brother J.J. Watt in 2014 and 2015, and Aaron Donald in 2017 and 2018. That’s the list. Now, T.J. Watt will try to join them.
And he’s got a shot. He’s found ways to improve his game every single year and in 2021, tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. He logged his incredible season despite playing hurt for most of the year, missing halves of some games and full games of others, not to mention starting the season cold after his training camp hold-in.
Hit the ground running in 2022 and play a healthy 17 games? The sky is the limit. It’ll almost be surprising if Watt doesn’t set football’s sack record.
Generally speaking, pass rushers are most likely to win the award. From 2010 to 2021, so the last twelve winners, nine of them have been defensive linemen, either EDGE rushers (Suggs, Mack, Watt) or hand down/interior defenders (Watt/Donald). Sacks tend to be more consistent and predictable than interceptions, and end up being gaudier, too. The dude with 18 sacks towers over the guy with seven interceptions. His highlight reel is longer and shutdown corners can get hurt if quarterbacks simply don’t look their way. The DPOY voting isn’t conducted by X’s and O’s junkies who understand the value of a corner who erases half the field. Box scores dominate. If Watt can have another 20+ sack year, he’ll again be the frontrunner. Voters have voted for him before and they’ll be more likely to do it again. Right or wrong, that’s the way it goes.
And if Watt can have another 20 sack season, he’ll have already dusted James Harrison to own the Steelers’ career sack record, even including the likes of Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood. A 20-sack season would put Watt just eight away from 100, making him one of the fastest players to ever hit triple digits. If Watt can hit 100 sacks by 2023, his seventh season, something that looks incredibly likely to happen, he’ll be just the third to ever do it joining Deacon Jones and Reggie White, two of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history.
But back to 2022. Watt winning DPOY again is far from guaranteed, as that short list indicates. But it’s happened twice over the last decade and Watt has the talent and ability to make himself the fourth one.