T.J. Watt Wins NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award

Defensive Player of the Year
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T.J. Watt, a star edge-rushing outside linebacker from the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. Watt’s 22.5 sacks this season paved the way for him to win this prestigious award. Watt received his award at Thursday night’s NFL Awards show, just one year after he finished second for the same award. Watt received 40 of the 48 AP votes for defensive player of the year. His best games and plays paved the path for Watt to win this year’s award.

T.J. Watt Wins 2021 Defensive Player of the Year Award

From Zero to Hero

Before the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans were skeptical if T.J. Watt would even play this year. Watt was holding out before the 2021 season until he got a contract extension. Luckily, for both him and the Steelers, they were able to strike a deal, and Watt had a career year on his way to winning the defensive player of the year award. Watt was able to get a four-year, $112 million deal done with Pittsburgh and earned every cent of his large contract through his outrageous performance.

Watt’s Great (And Record-Breaking) Season

T.J. Watt tallied 22.5 sacks on the season, which tied Michael Strahan’s single-season record set back in 2001. Plus, Watt tied this record after playing in just 15 games this season, two of which he left early. The amount of damage he did in the limited amount of time he played made him even more qualified to receive DPOY. Watt recorded at least one sack in twelve games, and more than one sack in eight of those games. His 3.5 sack game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and his four sack game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 propelled the Steelers over two of their divisional rivals.

Watt was not impactful in just the pass-rush game; he also tallied 21 tackles-for-loss on the year and 64 total tackles. Watt was also disruptive in the passing game when he either didn’t rush or could not get to the quarterback. He batted down seven opposing quarterback’s passes, a few of which ended in interceptions for the Steelers defense. Working together will All-Pro and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Heyward, the two wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks all year.

Throughout his 2021 campaign, Watt also created (and helped create) turnovers, especially impactful ones. Watt forced five fumbles on the year and also recovered three fumbles. One of those fumbles came in the Steelers playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Watt tackled Kansas City’s running back Jerick McKinnon, who then fumbled the ball. Watt, after forcing the fumble, scooped it up and ran it back for a touchdown. This gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead, as well as a big morale boost, but unfortunately, they could not keep their lead as the wildcard match went on.

Watt’s Revenge Season

After Watt finished third in DPOY voting in 2019, he played his heart out in 2020 to try and win the award. After a 15 sack year in 2020, he finished second in DPOY voting, behind only Aaron Donald. Many fans believed that Watt was snubbed of the award; Donald, who won the award, had worse lower stats than Watt in several major categories, including sacks, tackles, quarterback hits, and more. But, Donald still won the award, likely because of his impact in non-statistical categories.

Watt posted on Twitter directly after Donald was announced to have been the winner. It was a meme of Michael Jordan saying, “…and I took that personally,” which was a quote from Jordan’s “The Last Dance” documentary that aired last year. And Watt did, in fact, take the decision personally.

His outstanding, record-breaking performance in 2021 earned him this year’s defensive player of the year award. Watt received 40 of the 48 votes that were up-for-grabs, with Aaron Donald receiving three and rookie Micah Parsons receiving five. After receiving 40% of the vote in 2020 (for second place), Watt received a whopping 84% of the first-place vote this season.

Watt’s Best Games

Watt could not have achieved his exceptional season without his performances in some of Pittsburgh’s key games. Here’s a look back to T.J. Watt’s best games of the 2021 season:

Week 1: at Buffalo Bills

In the Steelers Week 1 win over Buffalo, Watt had two sacks and a forced fumble. He also had five quarterback hits on Josh Allen.

Week 6: vs. Seattle Seahawks

In Pittsburgh’s Week 6 victory against Seattle, Watt had his third multi-sack game of the season. He got to Geno Smith twice in the 23-20 Sunday Night Football Win. Watt had seven tackles in the game, including three of them for a loss. Watt’s biggest play came in overtime when he sacked Geno Smith after he began to scramble. Watt stripped the ball from Smith, and the fumble was recovered by Devin Bush. Watt’s strip-sack set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal from 37 yards out.

Week 9: vs. Chicago Bears

Watt had three sacks in the Steelers come-from-behind victory in Week 9. He once again had seven tackles, three of them for a loss.

Week 13: vs. Baltimore Ravens

In Week 13, the Steelers put up seven sacks on the Ravens. Watt had half (3.5) of those sacks in the game, which was his second-most in a game this season. He also had three tackles for loss in the Steelers 20-19 upset win.

Week 17: vs. Cleveland Browns

T.J. Watt’s most impressive game couldn’t have come at a better time. Watt tallied four sacks in Pittsburgh’s 26-14 home win over the Browns. This game was Ben Roethlisberger‘s last career home game, so Watt’s key performance couldn’t have come at a better time. Watt had four of the Steelers’ nine sacks of Baker Mayfield. This performance essentially solidified T.J. Watt as this year’s defensive player of the year.

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