With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt will be regarded as the best football player in the Watt family by the time he retires.
Explanation: While T.J. Watt has already garnered a tremendous amount of respect through his first five seasons, the general perception is that he still has some catching up to do to live up to the reputation of his older brother, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who has seemingly only been slowed by injuries in the second half of his career.
Unfortunately for big brother J.J., injuries do factor into the discussion of greatness, and we start talking about ‘what could have been’. If J.J. had stayed anywhere near as healthy as he had been in his first five seasons (he never missed a game), he might be regarded as one of the top five football players of all time, at any position.
But he’s only averaged 11 games per season over the past six years, recording 27.5 sacks in that span with 45 tackles for loss, 83 hits, 11 forced fumbles, and 18 batted passes with an interception. Compare that to what T.J. has done in one fewer season (albeit in 22 more games): 72 sacks, 80 tackles for loss, 150 hits, 22 forced fumbles, 32 batted passes, and four interceptions.
T.J. had a couple of injury issues last year, but I read them more as flukes, and not entirely unrelated perhaps to his lack of a training camp. There’s no reason to assume he’ll have to same bad injury luck as his older brother; he should at least roughly duplicate the numbers he has put up in his first five seasons during the next five as well. And that should be enough to put him over the top, so to speak.
As incredible as T.J. has been at times, he has never been as dominant as J.J. has been at his best. Only Aaron Donald could really compare to just how transcendental a player the best of J.J. Watt was. That’s why he was the Defensive Player of the Year three times in four seasons. And he returned to All-Pro form when he was finally healthy again in 2018.
T.J. is going to finish his career with the better numbers because he will have had better health luck, but those who watched both of them at their best will remember who the better player was. Both will be first-ballot Hall of Famers, so the distinction is negligible, but I hope nobody is forgetting just how amazing J.J. was just because it’s been a while since we’ve seen him playing fully healthy for a long stretch of time.
Plus, we all know the real answer is Derek. The Steelers are reluctant to play him for the sake of the safety of opposing players.