The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best players in the NFL in TJ Watt, but here’s why the edge defender was snubbed in recent player rankings.
When you win the Defensive Player of the Year award by a landslide, it’s hard to argue that there aren’t many players better in football. After dealing with numerous nagging injuries to his groin, hip, and knee this past season, TJ Watt was still able to string together some really impressive performances as he eventually went on to tie the single-season sack record in just 15 games played.
I’m not even going to argue that 2021 was Watt’s best season (largely because of the injuries). However, there’s no denying he was one of the most physically imposing players in the NFL when healthy. He finished the year with 22.5 sacks, 21 tackles for a loss, 39 quarterback hits, and five forced fumbles en route to DPOY honors and his third straight First-Team All-Pro showing, via Pro Football Reference.
Despite receiving the highest of individual accomplishments a defensive player could hope to earn, Watt was recently disrespected in a list of top NFL player rankings. Recently, Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus comprised a list of the top 101 players from the 2021 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers star defender ranked just 20th. Here’s what Monson had to say about Watt:
20. EDGE TJ WATT, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
2021 Snaps: 814 | 2021 PFF Grade: 89.6
The sack total gets all of the publicity, but Watt is an all-around excellent player who specializes in impact plays. He generated five forced fumbles, and his sacks of him represented 22 of his 62 pressures of him over the course of the season. Watt seems to be able to maintain an unusually strong ability to “finish” pressures and convert them into sacks, as he often makes the most valuable plays for his defense in the biggest moments.
Despite a very respectable grade this year and some record-setting numbers on the field with time missed, PFF has TJ Watt ranked remarkably low. Three of the 19 players ranked ahead of Watt on this list are fellow edge defenders in Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons, and Maxx Crosby.
Some of the other players ranked ahead of the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year include Kevin Byard, Joel Bitonio, and Mark Andrews. Even teammate, Cameron Heyward, was ranked ahead of Watt on this list.
While I am as big of a Heyward fan as anyone, it’s impossible to justify that he was better or more important to the Steelers making the playoffs than TJ Watt this past season.
Though their Pro Football Focus season grades certainly come into play here, there comes a breaking point of being overanalytical and Monson is flirting with that line. Watt wasn’t as consistent in 2021 as he has been in years past and there were a few quiet and unspectacular games thrown into the mix. However, when he was at full strength, you’d be hard-pressed to find any defender who had a bigger impact on the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans can take comfort in knowing that they are going to have a generational edge defender who is sure to be one of the best in the league for years to come. With a healthy season in 2022, Watt can put all of this nonsense to bed.