Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: OLB T.J. Watt
Stock Value: Even
Reasoning: There is no ‘up’ left for a player like T.J. Watt, so even if he didn’t play through injury during the 2022 season, it’s hard to imagine that he could have done much to improve the perception of his abilities beyond merely reconfirming that he can be exceptional consistently. As it is, he finished the season with just 5.5 sacks, the lowest total of his career, in 10 games played, yet he still made the Pro Bowl.
I think just about anybody would be more than a little hesitant to write a ‘stock down’ column about T.J. Watt after his 2022 season. After all, he does have a couple of things going for him, which are probably not mutually exclusive. The team played poorly without him. And in spite of all the lost time, he still made the Pro Bowl—perhaps in part because his absence demonstrated how valuable he is.
The Steelers posted 50-plus sacks every year since they drafted Watt in 2017, and he was a big part of that right away. In 2021 alone he got them nearly halfway there all by himself, named Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
Then you take him off the field for nearly half a season and you just wonder what could have been. Advanced analytics talk about things like wins above replacement, but how can one not speculate what the Steelers’ record would have been in the seven games he missed, during which they actually went 1-6?
After all, he gave every indication at the start of the year that he would be up to his usual tricks, recording a sack and an interception with three tackles for loss in the opener. Can you imagine how much different the defense would have been if they had that T.J. Watt for 17 games instead of one?
Because the truth is that he clearly never played a snap this season anywhere close to 100% healthy after his initial injury in the regular season. And he was already a little banged up by then anyway.
After every game once he returned, it seemed, he was asked about how he felt. First, he talked about having noodle legs. Eventually, he just grew tired of answering that question and simply said that it doesn’t matter anymore. In other words, he was hurting, but he was going to play anyway. And his return still had a dramatic impact on the overall quality of the defense, even at probably about 60-70%.