Where does Steelers T.J. Watt rank among all non-quarterbacks in NFL?

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90). Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90). Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

T.J. Watt might just be one of the most valuable players in the NFL who is not a quarterback. Here’s where I have the Steelers star ranked in 2022.

Weighing a player’s value to their respective football team is something that is incredibly difficult to measure, and there’s not going to be an answer everyone agrees on. There are dozens of factors that must be considered — none of which are more important than how these players show up on tape.

The NFL is currently loaded with talent. Obviously, the starting quarterback is almost always the single most important player on any team. However, there are a few non-quarterbacks out there who make quite the impact on the outcome of football games.

After two All-Pro seasons in 2019 and 2020, Pittsburgh Steelers edge defender, T.J. Watt, finally earned Defensive Player of the Year honors thanks to his outstanding statistical output last season. In just fifteen games, Watt racked up 22.5 sacks, 21 tackles for a loss, and 39 quarterback hits, via Pro Football Reference. He did all of this while dealing with nagging injuries for much of the season.

But Watt’s value stretches way beyond raw box score numbers. His impact on the team can be felt far and wide. So how many non-quarterbacks out there are more valuable than T.J. Watt?

How many non-QBs are more valuable than Watt?

I posed this question on Twitter this week. For reference, I listed some of the players I believed to be the biggest ‘impact’ players not at the quarterback position. Here are the top 10 names I came up with:

I asked Twitter users to rank the names on this list in terms of their importance with respect to their team. Some argued that Watt was number one on the list, while others had him slotted relatively low.

Sadly, we won’t be able to find common ground with everyone here, but let me share my perspective. Apart from quarterback, the most important positions in the league, in my opinion, are offensive tackle, edge defender, wide receiver, and cornerback. These are considered the ‘money’ positions in football. In other words, the positions that typically rake in the most dough.

Now here’s where it gets really tricky: trying to compare the value of players cross-positionally. Some outlets like Pro Football Focus and Next Gen Stats will argue that, outside of a team’s starting quarterback, wide receiver is the most valuable position. After all, it seems like teams with elite receiving corps typically make it pretty far in the playoffs (take the Bengals and Rams, for instance).

While I would agree that wide receivers are very important to the success of the offense and a team’s maximum potential to put up points, I do think that the position of importance is relative to the team.

Take the Steelers for example. I’m not convinced that another non-quarterback would have been more valuable to Pittsburgh last year than T.J. Watt. While the team’s run defense was poor — even with Watt — the pass rush was still excellent and he made game-changing plays that changed the outcome of games and got them into the playoffs.

Likewise, Aaron Donald was a beast for the Los Angeles Rams once again this year, and you can point to the pressure he was able to put on Joe Burrow during the Super Bowl as one of the reasons why the Rams won it all this year.

In addition, Trent Williams is the best offensive tackle in the league and his value in both the running game and the passing game is irreplaceable for the 49ers. While practically all the names on the list above are considered elite, game-changing football players, I do think Watt is very high on the list when you compare his overall value to the team.

After going through each player, I would probably rank T.J. Watt second to only the great Aaron Donald in terms of value to his organization. The Steelers wouldn’t be much of anything without him and Watt is a huge reason why Pittsburgh has had a top-6 defense in 4 of the past 5 years.

I would probably have Ja’Marr Chase as a very close third thanks to the impact he had on boosting the Bengals’ offense this season. Chase is already playing at an elite level, and the sky is the limit to his impact on the team.

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At the end of the day, you are never going to get everyone to agree on rankings that are this subjective, and a lot of this comes down to the thought process. Still, I thoroughly believe that T.J. Watt is one of the most valuable non-quarterbacks currently in the NFL, and I think he will prove that once again in 2022.