One year after being slighted in the NFL’s top EDGE rushers rankings by league executives, coaches and players, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star pass rusher T.J. Watt went on a rampage.
Watt tied the NFL’s single-season sacks record with 22.5, won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and was named the Steelers’ Team MVP for a record third year in a row. Now, ahead of the 2022 season with that hardware in his trophy case, Watt is in his rightful spot among EDGE rushers in ESPN’s survey, claiming the top spot in a recent article compiled by Insider Jeremy Fowler.
Last season, Watt placed behind Cleveland’s Myles Garrett in the survey, raising some eyebrows. No eyebrows should be raised this year after Watt’s display of dominance from start to finish last season. According to ESPN’s survey, Watt’s lowest ranking was third overall. ESPN surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help ESPN stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman.
Watt edged out Garrett in second place and San Francisco’s Nick Bosa in third place in the position rankings.
“Watt claims his first-ever No. 1 ranking here, after jumping from No. 7 in 2020 to No. 2 last year,” Fowler writes for ESPN.com. “And his 22.5 sacks to tie Michael Strahan’s single-season record make his case for him. Watt was the unanimous AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. But his impact comes from the total package he brings to the field.
“Watt’s 35.5 disrupted dropbacks — which include sacks, interceptions, batted passes and passes defended — ranked first in the NFL last season by a wide margin (Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs was next at 32.0). Furthermore, his 23.1% pass rush win rate ranked seventh overall.”
There’s no denying Watt’s greatness at this point. Whether it’s against double teams, one-on-one matchups…whatever it may be, Watt finds a way to win, and wins consistently. At just 28 years old, the star EDGE rusher is in the prime of his career and is already on a Hall of Fame pace through five seasons.
Even with him being on a Hall of Fame trajectory through just five seasons, Watt isn’t the flashiest pass rusher in the NFL, and certainly isn’t the most gifted. He wins with hard work, intensity and a relentless motor that never stops running hot. He consistently has something to prove snap-to-snap, which makes him great.
“Rare motor and quickness with his hands, has developed good power, and he can also dip and bend high side,” an AFC exec said regarding Watt’s placement at No. 1 in the survey. “Basically, he can beat you inside through you or outside. And [the Steelers] bring so much pressure typically that he’s able to add good chase production.”
That about sums up Watt perfectly. He has heavy hands, which he came out of Wisconsin with, which allows him to stun tackles at the point of attack. His speed and overall burst off the edge is tough to deal with as well, and when you add in that motor to chase down plays from the backside, you get an insane level of production.
Behind Watt, Garrett and Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers’ defensive end Joey Bosa and Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive end Maxx Crosby rounded out the top 5 in the survey. Garrett was the only other EDGE rusher to receive a first-place vote in the survey.