During the 2021 NFL season, fans of the Steelers and the NFL alike were all blessed with a season for the ages from superstar edge-rusher T.J. Watt, as he tied the single-season sacks record of 22.5 set by Giants’ Hall Of Famer Michael Strahan. He parlayed this historic season into his first, and arguably, second-or-third, AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, as he beat out future Hall Of Famer Aaron Donald and rookie phenom Micah Parsons.
However, according to NFL.com writer Nick Shook, Watt wasn’t even the number one “disruptor” or pass-rusher on the site’s ongoing “Next Gen Stats” series, where they use a variety of different criteria to formulate “their” list of the best in categories like deep passers, explosive runners, etc. They instead gave that designation to Troy Hendrickson from the division rival Bengals, who finished the season with 14 sacks, or 8.5 less than Watt. For some pass rushers, an 8.5 sack-season is considered a great season and they’ve used that as a launch pad to sign lucrative deals. Look at the Patriots’ Matthew Judon as an example. Formerly of the Ravens, he posted in that neighborhood in 2019 with 9.5 sacks and then six in 2020. For his efforts, New England rewarded him with a four-year, $56 million deal.
By now, nobody in the Steel City should be the least bit surprised by Watt getting any kind of snub when it comes to recognition, but how can they ignore exactly the season he had and couple it with the fact that he accomplished everything that he did DESPITE missing two, and most of three, games? Based on their criteria for this exercise, they used grading factor such as hurries, sacks, QB pressures, QBP(QB pressure) rate and turnovers caused by QB pressure(TO-QBP) to stake their claim. Shook explained his reasoning for Watt’s runner-up status below, and the first several sentences seem to ring home how silly this listing is. After all, who was better at disrupting opposing QB’s in 2021 than Watt?
“Watt posted the highest single-season sack rate (6.1%) of the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016),” Shook said, according to NFL.com. “Also, he owns the highest sack rate (3.7%) over the duration of the NGS era (min. 1,500 pass-rush snaps). He’s more efficient at getting home than any rusher in the history of Next Gen Stats. However, he’s second on this list because a player from a division rival happened to post the fourth-highest QB pressure rate in a single season in NGS history and force five turnovers via pressure in 2021.”
Basically, it appears he handed Hendrickson the top spot over Watt due to the aforementioned turnovers created by QB pressure, as he had five while Watt “only” had three. Again, this should be taken with a grain of salt, as without missing almost three games, Watt would’ve laid waste to the single-season sack record and likely put up somewhere in the 24-26 range, maybe more. One can even argue it already should rightfully be his, but a very questionable roughing-the-passer call on fellow All-Pro Cam Heyward negated another sack of Ravens’ QB Tyler Huntley in the final regular season game, which obviously would’ve given him the sole record.
Also keep in mind, he had two or more sacks in a game a whopping six times, including four takedowns of Browns’ QB Baker Mayfield in a Week 17 win. So what do you think of Shook’s NGS exercise? Blasphemy or do you think Hendrickson warranted it, based simply on overall health and game availability? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.