The offseason honors continue to roll in for key members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. On Monday the organization announced that outside linebacker T.J. Watt and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have been named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-AFC and All-NFL teams. It was only a week ago that Watt and Fitzpatrick were named Associated Press First-Team All-Pro for 2020, with defensive end Cameron Heyward named a second-teamer.
For his part, Fitzpatrick led the Steelers in tackles with 79, and also had 11 passes defensed and four interceptions. That’s one less interception than he had in 2019 and “two or three” short of the interception total he predicted for himself prior to the start of the season. Fitzpatrick also had one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
T.J. Watt’s Case for Defensive Player of the Year
Watt, Pittsburgh’s Team MVP, finished the regular season with the most sacks in the league (15), as well as the most tackles for loss (23) and quarterback hits (41). As noted by the above-referenced link to Steelers.com, T.J. Watt is the third player in the NFL to record at least 15 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 40 quarterback hits in the last 15 seasons. The others who accomplished that feat—namely Watt’s older brother J.J. (Houston Texans) and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald—went on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
That helps explain why T.J. Watt is one of the leading contenders to win the honor this year. But it’s anything but a slam dunk. In fact, if a recent poll of NFL executives is any indication, it’s Donald who will take home the honor (for a third time, as he also won in 2017 and 2018).
It also helps explain why several interested observers have used the media to serve as promotional wingmen to advance T.J. Watt’s candidacy.
The winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award is expected to be announced on February 6th (the day before Super Bowl XL), along with the winners of other Associated Press awards like AP Offensive Player of the Year and AP NFL Most Valuable Player.
Coming Soon: Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021
Meanwhile, the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will meet virtually on Tuesday January 19th to vote for the Class of 2021. Among others, the committee will be voting on the candidacies of former Steelers offensive guard Alan Faneca, as well the late Bill Nunn, the latter a Contributor finalist who has been referred to as ‘The Dynasty Builder.’
The Class of 2021 will be introduced during the NFL Honors show the night before Super Bowl LV and will be enshrined in August along with the Class of 2020, which includes former Steelers safeties Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell, as well as former head coach Bill Cowher.
Former Steelers defensive back and defensive coordinator Tony Dungy was added to the Hall of Fame selection committee this past August. Dungy was named a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
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