Most Steelers’ fans have a hate/hate relationship with Adam Schein, though he’s recently at least said some nice things about the black and gold lately. Before the official list is revealed Sunday, Schein released his personal NFL Top Ten rankings, and his placement of T.J. Watt probably won’t have you loving or hating it. He placed Watt sixth overall and explained it this way:
“Tying Michael Strahan‘s single-season record with 22.5 sacks, Watt ran away with the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year award. As an absolute game-wrecker off the edge, Watt had been knocking on the DPOY door for multiple seasons. Since entering the league in 2017, the guy has 22 forced fumbles — easily an NFL high. Like his older brother J.J. was in his prime, T.J.’s a force of nature rushing the passer.
Now I’m dying to see what the Steelers star has in store for 2022. I mean, look at this sack trend line, starting with his rookie season: 7, 13, 14.5, 15, 22.5. He could leave Strahan in the dust this season.”
Everything Schein is saying here is spot-on, and the nugget about his yearly increased sack production is one of my favorite stats. Find me another player whose sacks have increased five straight seasons. Maybe there’s someone else out there, but no one’s down with the success Watt’s had.
What Schein doesn’t mention is that Watt racked up his 22.5 sacks last season in essentially 14 games when you take into consideration the two full games he didn’t dress for, and the two halves of others, the Raiders and Lions games, in which he got hurt. Watt also played only 36% of the snaps in a loss to the Vikings late in the season. So while topping his 22.5 sack from a year ago seems daunting, there’s a clear path for Watt breaking it and holding sole possession of the single-season sack record.
While some fans will be upset at Watt not being ranked even higher, he’s the second-best defensive player on the list. He only trails Rams’ DT Aaron Donald, who Schein ranked as the #1 player in the league. Sandwiched between are quarterbacks and receivers: QB Josh Allen, QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams (a mild surprise), and QB Patrick Mahomes. Watt was ranked ahead of the likes of CB Jalen Ramsey and DE Myles Garrett, the latter not even making Schein’s top ten.
NFL Network will release the official player-voted Top 100 Sunday night with the final 20 names revealed. Watt is a lock to crack the top ten. Now it’s a question of high he’s slotted in it. I’m expecting him to be ranked in that 4-6 range, so Schein’s slotting is on the conservative side but doesn’t seem unreasonable.