Is Steelers T.J. Watt pulling away in the DPOY conversation?

T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

T.J. Watt appears to be the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. Is the Steelers star starting to pull away from the pack? 

There’s a lot that needs to be considered when it comes to selecting the Defensive Player of the Year, and voters could weigh things differently. While some may value rare raw production highly, others could factor in team defense, DVOA, or advanced metrics.

Regardless of how you weigh these categories, there’s no doubt that T.J. Watt is one of the top DPOY candidates once again this year. In fact, he’s currently the odds-on favorite to win this award for the first time following the 2021 season.

When it comes to a comparison of raw statistical production this year, Watt blows the competition out of the water. Here’s how he measures up to some of the top Defensive Player of the Year candidates this season, via Pro Football Reference:

Despite playing two fewer games and significantly less snaps than players like Micah Parsons, Aaron Donald, and Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt leads the pack in nearly every major statistical category. This is nothing new, as Watt leads in almost all of these areas in the NFL over the past three seasons.

His 21.5 sacks are currently one of the greatest single-season totals of all time, and he needs just 1.5 sacks in his final game against the Ravens to claim the sack record from Michael Strahan. In addition, Watt is tied for the league lead in tackles for a loss and has made significantly more splash plays than the other top DPOY candidates.

Watt has made a remarkable effort this season despite missing two games and leaving the contest early in four others. While his team defense doesn’t rank as highly as some of these other squads, is he running away with the competition for Defensive Player of the Year?

Steelers T.J. Watt should be the DPOY

I try not to let biases get in the way of what I do. I pride myself on being able to look at things objectively, and my readers know that I don’t sugarcoat it when players aren’t performing well. However, I do believe that T.J. Watt is deserving of Defensive Player of the Year honors this season.

While Aaron Donald is a freakish player who could realistically win the award every season thanks to his dominance in the interior defensive line, Watt has been the most productive defensive player in the NFL over the past three seasons — leading the league in at least four major statistical categories over this time, according to Pro Football Reference.

Though Pittsburgh might not have a great team defense this year, the difference when T.J. plays a full game (and plays healthy) is astronomical. Here’s a look at how the Steelers have performed this season when Watt plays a full game compared to when he doesn’t suit up or is forced to leave the contest early with an injury:

Even the great Aaron Donald wouldn’t have an impact like this if he was absent for an extended period. Donald and Micah Parsons are both incredible defensive players who have had fantastic seasons. However, I have a hard time believing that they are more valuable to their team than what the Steelers are when Watt doesn’t play.

I think the Cowboys and the Rams are easily both still playoff teams without their best defenders and they may not make a difference in the win/loss column. While PFF’s WAR metric (wins above replacement) would try to suggest otherwise, I don’t know how you could make a case for anyone besides T.J. Watt being the most important player to his team.

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With one more strong performance, Watt is likely to earn this DPOY honor — especially if he cracks the single-season sack record against the Ravens. No matter what happens in Week 18, I think the Steelers star defender is deserving of this award.