Steelers’ T.J. Watt Wins 2021 AP Defensive Player of the Year

T.J. Watt

Getty Images T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Last year Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt finished second in AP Defensive Player of the Year voting, following a third-place finish in 2019. This year he won AP Defensive Player of the Year for the first time, beating out three-time winner Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) and other contenders, including Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons.

T.J. Watt’s award was presented by his brother J.J. at the NFL Awards Show in Los Angeles. T.J. Watt’s parents, his other brother, Derek, and his fiancée Dani Rhodes, were all in attendance.

The honor comes in the wake of a season in which Watt tied Michael Strahan’s NFL single-season record with 22.5 sacks, while also leading the NFL in sacks for the second-straight year. Along the way, he broke the Steelers’ single-season record for sacks, which was set in 2008 by James Harrison.

As for the breakdown of the votes, NFL.com reveals that Watt received 42 of a possible 50 votes, with Micah Parsons garnering five votes and Aaron Donald getting three.

The results of the voting were not a surprise; an informal poll of NFL executives conducted by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network in December 2021 seemed to indicative that Watt would win, as he received twice as many votes (8) as his next-closest competitor, that being Parsons (4). This as opposed to last year, when Pelissero’s poll suggested that Watt would come up short.


T.J. Watt: ‘This Only Motivates Me More’

While accepting the award, T.J. Watt said “I grew up coming to this award show—I think I’ve been five or six times—and never came home with hardware. But every time I left more motivated than the time I got here, and I promise, this only motivates me more.”

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T.J. Watt is the 7th Steelers Player to Win the Award

T.J. Watt joins an exclusive group of Steelers who have won the award: Mean Joe Greene (1972, 1974), Mel Blount (1975), Jack Lambert (1976), Rod Woodson (1993), James Harrison (2008) and Troy Polamalu (2010). All except Harrison have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As noted by Steelers.com, Watt is one of only two players in NFL history to have 20-plus sacks in 14 or fewer games since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. The only other one to do it was the legendary Reggie White, who had 21 sacks in 12 games in 1987 in a strike-shortened season.

Watt has already recorded 72 career sacks, which ranks fourth in Steelers history, despite the fact that he has only played five seasons.

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Prior to winning AP Defensive Player of the Year (2021), Watt had already been voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro, 101 Awards AFC Defensive Player of the Year, PFWA Defensive Player of the Year, The Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year and All-NFL by PFWA. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl and named the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player for 2021.

Watt was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft (No. 30 overall) out of Wisconsin. In September 2021, the Steelers signed him to a four-year contract extension that made him the highest paid defender in the league.


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