Analytics in today's NFL are a good thing. We have access to data these days like we've never had before, and advanced statistics can help us learn even more about players. But just like anything else, too much of anything can be bad. Such has been the case when it comes to overanalyzing Pittsburgh Steelers star, T.J. Watt.
Because of all of the analytics we have today, there are metrics that show that Watt doesn't get to the quarterback as fast as other top pass rushers or that he's not 'winning' his assignment at quite as high of a rate. Additionally, some metrics (albeit subjectively) determine that his difficulty of assignment is easier than some of the other top edge defenders in the NFL.
The collection of these analytics is surfacing. Though Watt is the most productive pass rusher in the NFL (again) early in the season, and there's a narrative going around with much of the national football media that Watt doesn't get as many high-quality sacks as players like Myles Garrett or Micah Parsons. In fact, many people credit much of his production to hustle -- claiming that he's getting clean-up sacks.
If the eye test wasn't good enough, thank goodness we have some data to refute this.
Brandon Thorn -- a pass rush and offensive line guru who lives to study the trenches -- recently posted his updated chart depicting the Sack Score of the top 19 pass rushers in the NFL. Unsurprising to Steelers fans, T.J. Watt is the top name on the list.
Thorn watches every snap of these NFL pass rushers and charts their production based on rare, high-quality, low-quality, coverage, and clean-up sacks. From this data, he gives each player a sack score -- a metric of essentially determining how dominant the pass rusher has been. Watt currently leads the league with a sack score of 7.0.
Thorn determined that all six of Watt's sacks so far during the 2023 season have been deemed 'high quality' -- meaning there's not a single clean-up sack to his name this year. The second-best name on the list is Myles Garrett (who, in his own right is having a phenomenal year). Still, Garrett is clearly a tier below Watt at the moment with a sack score of 4.5 entering Week 4.
There are a couple of things worth noting here. First of all, yes, Thorn's charting is a bit subjective. He needs to make a judgment call on each and every rep to label which category the sack should fall into. It's also worth noting that this particular chart doesn't account for pressures or pass-rush win rate (both of which are also subjective).
Additionally, we can see that Watt has more pass-rush snaps than other top edge defenders like Garrett and Parsons. However, this stat somewhat works against him. Watt has a lower percentage of total pass rush snaps that he's on the field for, and because he rarely leaves the field, he's asked to exuberate much of his energy into stopping the run as well.
While there's no perfect replacement for the eye test, this Sack Score metric developed by film junkie Brandon Thorn is a great tool to use in an agreement for T.J. Watt. It's hard to deny that Watt is on a Hall of Fame pace, and at this rate, he could very well wind up being the Defensive Player of the Year again if he can stay healthy in 2023.