In 2019 not a single Pittsburgh Steelers player appeared on Pro Football Focus’ Top 50 NFL Players list. Last year a pair of Steelers warranted inclusion, those being defensive end Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker T.J. Watt, coming in at No. 40 and No. 28, respectively. This year both Heyward and Watt moved significantly higher on the list, with the former rising nine spots to No. 31 and Watt authoring an even larger leap, all the way up to No. 11, making him the second-highest-ranked edge rusher in the NFL behind Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears (No. 6 overall), and the highest-rated player in the AFC North, well ahead of Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns (No. 25).
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Steelers, T.J. Watt Will Attempt to Tie NFL Records in 2021
Naturally, the Steelers figure to need standout seasons from both Heyward and Watt if PFF’s top-ranked defensive line unit hopes to tie the NFL record for most consecutive seasons with 50+ sacks (five). Last year Pittsburgh set a new franchise record for most consecutive 50+ sack seasons (four), something no NFL team has accomplished since the 1985-88 New York Giants. For his part, Watt set a new career high with 15 sacks, while Heyward contributed four, which is fewer than normal, as his career high is 12 (2017) and he recorded nine in 2019.
Meanwhile, T.J. Watt will be attempting to tie an individual NFL record this season. If he is able to record at least 13 sacks, he will become just the second NFL player to record 13 or more sacks in four consecutive seasons, joining the late Reggie White, who accomplished that feat twice. Only nine other NFL players have ever recorded 13 or more sacks four times (total), a group that includes T.J.’s brother, J.J. Watt, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
Aaron Donald Remains No. 1 in the NFL, per PFF
In case you’re wondering, defensive lineman Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 player in the NFL (again), with Sam Monson of PFF writing: “No matter how good you think Donald is, you’re probably underselling it. The Los Angeles Rams star is an outlier the likes of which we haven’t seen in 15 years of grading at the NFL level. He is a unicorn in a league full of physical freaks and talented superstars.”
Last year T.J. Watt was the runner-up in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting, with Donald capturing the award for the third time in four years (2017, 2018, 2020), this despite the efforts of Watt’s Promotional Wingmen, including brother J.J. Watt and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who did what they could to try to erase the gap.
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