Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has received his share of praise since coming in third in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting last year. One NFL analyst recently named him as the best edge rusher in the NFL. And Pro Football Focus has identified him as one of the 50 Best Players in the NFL entering 2020, right alongside teammate Cam Heyward.
But in new rankings released today by ESPN, Watt was ranked as just the seventh-best edge rusher in the league entering 2020. ESPN compiled its rankings by querying more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players (asking them to name their best 10 to 15 players at a position), then “compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research.”
T.J. Watt No. 7 in the NFL?
ESPN staff writer Jeremy Fowler advances the notion that “Not many players maximize their abilities quite like Watt, who was wildly productive with 14.5 sacks and a league-leading eight forced fumbles [tied with Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals]. If that wasn’t enough, Watt won on 27.7% of his pass rushes, tops among this group.”
“He does it in every category,” said a veteran NFL defensive coach who was part of the poll. “If he had Josh Allen’s athletic ability, he would be No. 1 on this list.”
According to Fowler, Watt’s highest ranking among those polled was fourth and his lowest rating was twelfth. It’s hard to fathom how Watt didn’t make it into the Top 5 when he’s coming off a year with 14.5 sacks, 36 quarterback hits and 8 forced fumbles.
Perhaps Watt is not getting enough credit for his well-rounded game. Keep in mind that in addition to the sacks and hits noted above, in 2019 he also intercepted two passes and had eight passes defensed, plus four recovered fumbles and 35 solo tackles.
As for the other edge rushers ahead of him on the list, those players are: Khalil Mack, Chandler Jones, Nick Bosa, Von Miller, Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa, at numbers 1-6, respectively. By way of comparison, Garrett racked up 10 sacks in the 10 games he played last year before getting suspended, plus 18 quarterback hits, 20 solo tackles and two forced fumbles.
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T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree: A Top Tandem
Regardless, T.J. Watt and fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree can be expected to be one of the top pass rushing tandems in the league for at least one more season. Never mind Dupree’s recently-filed grievance in which he claims he’s a defensive end, not a linebacker. The Steelers won’t be able to afford both Watt and Dupree after 2020, and Watt is clearly the priority in terms of a long-term contract extension.
In fact, Watt is one of two Steelers on one NFL analyst’s ‘never let them leave’ list. T.J. is under contract with the team for two more seasons. His base salary will be $1,727,565 in 2020 and rises to $10,089,000 in 2021.