After a franchise-record run of three straight Team MVP awards, star Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt is poised for a fourth.
Coming off of an NFL-record tying 22.5 sacks in 2021, Watt — the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL — is set for another big season in the black and gold, especially with all the upgrades the Steelers made to the roster around him on the defensive side of the football. That’s why Watt is largely a safe bet to win his fourth straight Team MVP award, as voted on by his teammates.
What about a shot at the NFL’s MVP award though?
Taking quarterbacks out of the equation, Watt was easily the Steelers’ choice for non-QB MVP candidate by NFL.com’s Kevin Patra Friday morning, which really shouldn’t be a surprise. Patra’s prediction comes just three days after CBS Sports’ Jordan Dajani predicted a fourth straight Team MVP award for Watt.
Ahead of the 2022 season, it’s safe to say Watt is the betting favor for the prestigious award in franchise history, but could also have an outside shot at becoming the first defensive player since 1986 in New York Giants’ star outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor to win the NFL’s MVP award.
“Watt tied the single-season sack record with 22.5 in 15 games in 2021. What if he blasts past that benchmark to lead the league in sacks for a third straight season? No player has ever paced the NFL in sacks in back-to-back-to-back campaigns,” Patra writes for NFL.com regarding his selection of Watt for the Steelers’ non-QB MVP candidate. “Watt averaged 1.5 sacks per game in 2021, second all-time only to Hall of Famer Reggie White’s 1.75 mark set in 1987 (min. five games). If Watt breaks the record while dragging the Steelers to the postseason again, he’d be a shoo-in for back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. But he’d deserve more, like becoming the first defensive MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.”
What Watt has done since coming into the league in 2017 is nothing short of remarkable. He’s put up some impressive numbers and is on a historic trajectory at this point in his career, one that will almost certainly land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his playing days come to a conclusion.
Replicating what he did in 2021 will be rather hard overall, but let’s hypothetically say Watt does that, and actually sets the NFL’s single-season sacks record, rather than tying it. With good health and some luck, he could certainly do that, considering his 22.5 sacks last season came in just 15 games, missing parts of one game, and two others entirely.
Say he plays 17 games and averages that 1.5 sacks per game. That would give him 25.5 sacks in 2022, shattering Michael Strahan’s previous record of 22.5, which would make Watt a shoo-in to win his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award, and would likely put the Steelers in the playoffs once again.
If he does that, he could find himself in the NFL MVP conversation with a realistic shot at winning the award as Patra states.
Elsewhere in the AFC North, Patra highlighted tight end Mark Andrews as the Ravens’ non-QB MVP candidate, as well as Bengals’ wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Browns’ running back Nick Chubb.