It’s been no secret just how dominant T.J. Watt has been for the Pittsburgh Steelers since being drafted in 2017, and he proved his worth to the rest of the league last season when he tied the NFL single-season sack record. Prior to the 2022 NFL Season, Steven Cheah from Barstool Sports ranked his top-100 players in the NFL and included Watt at No. 6, which was the second-highest mark for a defensive player behind Aaron Donald at No. 1.
“T.J. Watt has increased his sack total in each of his first five seasons. It’ll be tough to do next season as Watt just set the single season sack record with 22.5. And I don’t want to hear any of this 17 game season stuff, because the guy only played in 15 games,” Cheah wrote. He also praised Watt’s instincts, which have been on display more and more in the last few seasons.
Watt was ranked behind Donald, as well as reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, and QBs Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Watt was ahead of WR Cooper Kupp and OT Trent Williams, as well as LB Micah Parsons and DE Myles Garrett in the top ten. It’s definitely a fair ranking for Watt. He’s legitimately a game-changer on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s no question in my mind that he’s a top-two defender in football along with Donald. There’s a legitimate chance he surpasses his 22.5 sacks this season because as Cheah pointed out, Watt only played in 15 games last season. With a full season under his belt, there’s a legitimate possibility he can take over the single-season sack record.
Even if he doesn’t eclipse his 2021 total, the extra attention offenses will give Watt could allow OLB Alex Highsmith or DL Cam Heyward to make up for it with more sacks or tackles for a loss of their own. Speaking of Heyward, I think he was a little bit too low on Cheah’s list, as he came in at No. 54. Along with Heyward and Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick also cracked Cheah’s top-100, as he came in at No. 49.
Those three were the only Steelers on the list, and Pittsburgh will rely heavily on those three if they want to make a playoff push this season. The defense has to be better against the run, but if Watt, Heyward and Fitzpatrick can replicate their 2021 performances, I like the odds of the defense being a top-ten or maybe even top-five unit in the NFL this year. With a young offense, the Steelers will need that sort of performance to make it far in a tough AFC.
Do you agree with Cheah’s ranking? Let us know in the comments below.