Poll of NFL Execs Address DPOY Chances for Steelers’ T.J. Watt

T.J. Watt

Joe Sargent/Getty Images T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after a sack against the Tennessee Titans on December 19, 2021.

On December 23, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero released the results of his annual awards survey, in which he polls high-ranking NFL executives about their picks for awards like MVP, Offensive & Defensive Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.

In 2020, the results of Pelissero’s poll strongly suggested that Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald would win Defensive Player of the Year honors, which is exactly what happened, as Donald later won the award for the third time in his perennial All-Pro career.

But this year’s survey results suggest that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is the frontrunner to win 2021 Defensive Player of the Year as he received eight votes, with Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons the runner-up with four votes.

“Watt leads the NFL in sacks (17.5), QB hits (30) and sack rate (6.0% of pass-rush snaps, the highest in the Next Gen Stats era, which began in 2016) despite playing in just 12 games this season,” notes Pelissero. Never mind that Watt missed a game with a groin injury and another due to hip/knee ailments, while also missing the majority of two other contests, making his production all the more remarkable.

“He can rush the passer and he can drop and he does a lot of multiple things for their defense,” said one NFC executive, per Pelissero.

“He’s not the most gifted dude, but he’s relentless,” offered an AFC executive.

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The Other 2021 DPOY Candidates

In addition to Watt and Parsons, six other players received votes in Pelissero’s survey, but only three of those were multiple vote-getters. Those being Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (three votes), Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (three) and Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa (two).

This year, Donald received just one vote, as compared to 19 of 22 votes in Pelissero’s 2020 poll. Chicago Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey also got one vote each.

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Another Indicative NFL Poll Forthcoming?

If you’re looking for a second indicator as to Watt’s Defensive Player of the Year chances, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated might be able to help. Last season, Breer’s early January 2021 poll indicated that Donald would finish ahead of Watt in DPOY voting; a similar survey in early 2022 ought to be very revealing.

In the meantime, Watt still has time for interested observers to campaign for him. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin advocated for Watt to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, saying, “T.J. is visiting from another planet. He has freakishly unique talent coupled with freakishly unique work habits and mindset, and it produces what you guys witness every week, which in my opinion is Defensive Player of the Year quality.”

T.J.’s brother J.J. Watt—a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year himself—also served as a promotional wingman for his younger brother, to no avail.

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