Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been truly dominant through 14 games this season. The third-year player out of Wisconsin has shown that he is one of the best pass rushers in the league. A unique combination of size and speed allows him to dominate right tackles on a week by week basis. More importantly, Watt has shown that he is more than just an elite pass rusher. That is why he should be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year award.
T.J. Watt’s Case for Defensive Player of the Year
Dominant Pass Rusher
So far this season, T.J. Watt hasn’t gone a week without wreaking havoc in the opposing backfield. His 13 sacks are tied for fifth in the league, but sacks are only part of what makes him so special. Watt’s 31 QB hits on the season tie him for first in the league with Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Watt is the best player on arguably the best defense in the NFL and is anchoring the defensive line on the team who is tied for the most sacks in the league.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, there are stats that go deeper than sacks and hits that make Watt one of the top defenders in the league. His .76 second edge pass rush get-off is the fastest of anyone in the league, which is explained by his freakish athleticism. Watt sometimes gets past the opposing tackle before he has time to get out of his stance. He has 47 pressures on the season, which is good for a pressure percentage of 12.1 percent. Between pressures, sacks, hits, and hurries, Watt can do it all as a pass rusher.
More Than a Pass Rusher
What has been most impressive about Watt this season is that he has developed as much more than just a pass rusher. He has 14 tackles for loss this season, which puts him in a tie for fifth in the league. Watt excels in this area once again due to his elite speed. Many of his tackles for loss come when he is unblocked on the backside of a run play. He is fast enough to run down the ball carrier and bring him down in the backfield.
Watt has forced his fair share of turnovers this year as well. Six forced fumbles tie him for the lead in the NFL. His recent forced fumble against the Buffalo Bills shows the complete player Watt is. He started the play in coverage on Cole Beasley, identified the play was a run and chased Devin Singletary down to punch the ball out. This kind of high motor play is nothing out of the ordinary for Watt. Another forced fumble is shown below and is one of Watt’s best plays on the season. He gets the trifecta in this play; the sack, the forced fumble, and the fumble recovery.
To go with his forced fumbles, Watt has recorded two interceptions on the year as well. His first came against the San Francisco 49ers when he identified a screen pass and got into the flats before the quarterback could get the ball out. His other interception came against the Arizona Cardinals when Watt dropped into coverage and intercepted Kyler Murray in the end zone. T.J. Watt has been a force in every aspect of defense this season.
History on the Side of T.J. Watt
Stephon Gilmore is the other leading DPOY candidate, and for good reasons. Gilmore is a lockdown corner in every sense of the word. He’s tied for the league lead in interceptions with six, despite the fact that opposing quarterbacks often don’t throw his way. History is on Watt’s side, though, as a defensive back hasn’t won the award since 2010. Seven of the eight award winners since then have been defensive lineman or outside linebackers. There isn’t a wrong answer between Gillmore and Watt, but there is a strong case for T.J. Watt to be this year’s award winner.