Coming off of a dominant Defensive Player of the Year Award that also saw him tie the NFL’s single-season sacks record, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star pass rusher T.J. Watt was the clear-cut choice for the top EDGE rusher in football, according to Pro Football Focus.
Working through positional rankings in the height of the offseason, PFF’s Sam Monson gave Watt the edge over Cleveland Browns’ star defensive end Myles Garrett, placing Watt atop the top tier at the position, which Monson dubbed the DPOY Candidate tier.
Along with Watt and Garrett, Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Micah Parsons, Los Angeles Chargers’ EDGE Khalil Mack, the Bosa brothers in Joey and Nick, and Las Vegas Raiders’ breakout star Maxx Crosby held down spots in the top tier.
Watt was the correct choice for the No. 1 spot though, according to Monson.
“Few NFL arguments are as explosive as the one surrounding who the better edge rusher is: T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett. Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but Garrett posted the better PFF grade and pressure rate and had several other stats go in his favor last season,” Monson writes. “Ultimately, both players are phenomenal and have been so for several years now, but Watt gets the top spot on the rankings simply for maintaining his peak for a longer run of games.
“Between a suspension for hitting Mason Rudolph with his own helmet and a bout of COVID-19 blunting his effectiveness for a stretch of the 2020 season, Garrett just hasn’t been able to maintain the scintillating run of play that Watt has over as long of a span,” Monson added. “In any given game or even season, though, Garrett is well capable of being better. Over the past two seasons, these two edge rushers rank No. 1 and No. 2 in PFF grade, with just one-tenth of a grading point separating them (91.9 for Garrett to 91.8 for Watt). They rank first and third in pass-rush win rate, and no edge rusher has more sacks than Watt.”
It’s certainly an interesting argument overall, but the two play different positions and have different responsibilities overall. When it comes to pure pass rushing though, Watt has had a higher level of success than Garrett throughout his career: that much cannot be debated. Stats prove it.
Quite frankly, it shouldn’t be much of a discussion until Garrett wins himself a DPOY. In fact, Watt should be coming off of his second straight DPOY award after being snubbed in 2020 for Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald.
While Watt is very clearly at the top of the charts when it comes to EDGE play in the NFL, it was a bit of a surprise to not see Steelers’ third-year EDGE Alex Highsmith not ranked inside the top 32 at the position overall by Monson. Highsmith took a nice step forward in his first full season as a starter, showing a plethora of pass rush moves opposite Watt.
That could be some fuel for Highsmith to prove a doubter like PFF wrong in a pivotal third season ahead.