Steelers’ T.J. Watt Making Case to Be in MVP Conversation, Writers Say

T.J. Watt

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. watt significantly criticized his team's season opening performance against the San Francisco 49ers.

Dominating opposing quarterbacks has never been a challenge for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, who reached a milestone more quickly than any other NFL player in history but one.

With his 2 sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh’s 16-10 win in Week 12, Watt joins Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White as the only two players to reach 90 sacks in their first 100 games played, according to Pro Football Network. Heading into Week 13, Watt has 13.5 sacks (tied for the league lead with Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings), and that could put him in the NFL MVP conversation, according to ESPN.

“As his teammates have pointed out, Watt should be an MVP candidate not because of his stat sheet, but because of the immeasurable impact he’s had on the Steelers’ [7-4] season,” Brooke Pryor and Jake Trotter wrote in a November 18 story.

They quoted teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick, a five-time All-Pro safety and the most recent defensive player to get a first-place MVP vote, praising Watt, 29, as a “game-wrecker.”

And inside linebacker Elandon Roberts told them, “I’ve been in the league eight years and I’ve never played next to a guy like T.J. … The type of things that I see T.J. do is on a whole different spectrum. He probably don’t care too much about [the award], but if I get the opportunity to talk about it, I will.”

Watt’s Dominant Track Record Carrying Over into Blistering 2023 Campaign

Watt wasted no time getting after Bengals quarterback Jake Browning in their November 26 game. His first sack came at the 11:17 mark of the first quarter, when he made a beautiful inside-out play to evade two offensive linemen before curling around the left side to sack Browning from behind and force a fumble.

It was an example of what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gene Collier called a “high aptitude for menace.” In his November 26 column, published before the Bengals game, Collier wrote that Watt is a “consistently excellent and game-changing defender.”

Watt came alive again with 13:49 to go in the fourth quarter. Browning tried to cut up the middle but was stifled by Watt and Cameron Heyward. As he often does after taking a quarterback, he let out an impassioned roar to the crowd.

Heyward poked fun at his teammate for not wanting to share credit for the sack.

“He was trying to take it,” Heyward said on the November 27 episode of the “Not Just Football” podcast. “Don’t let T.J. fool you. He’s very selfish when it comes to his sacks. He was trying to rip the guy away from me so he could get the sack. But that’s just our friendly little rivalry going on.”

The road to 91 sacks was kicked off with a strong rookie season in 2017, when he had 7 takedowns. Since then, Watt’s had double-digit sacks every year in which he’s played 15-plus games. In 2022, he appeared in just 10 games. A year earlier, he set the single-season NFL record with 22.5 sacks.

How T.J. Watt’s Stack Up to Reggie White’s

White’s name is up there with Lawrence Taylor and Deion Sanders for best defensive player in league history. He had 13 sacks as a rookie and by the time he was done with his fourth season, had already led the league twice in that department and had averaged over 17 a year. Comparing feats, White had 105 sacks in his first 82 games.

The Post-Gazette’s Collier hesitated to put Watt in the same conversation as White.

Is Watt “really ‘joining’ White? Because that sounds to me entirely like a fish of another fathom,” Collier wrote. “Maybe another decade or so of reliable havoc will make some people forget Reggie White.”

Watt will look to continue his historic tear and further ascend among the greats. Watt is on pace to record 7 more sacks in the Steelers’ 6 remaining games.

After that, he’ll be on track to enter the top 30 in 2024. Of course, that will hang on his health and keeping up his productivity levels. Former New Orleans Saints great Pat Swilling sits at No. 30 with 107.5 while Los Angeles Rams superstar Aaron Donald sits one notch above at 108.5.

White finished with 198 sacks in 15 seasons, 2 sacks behind the all-time leader, Bruce Smith, who finished with 200 in 18 seasons.