It didn't take long for T.J. Watt to establish himself as one of the best edge defenders in football. The former Wisconsin standout flashed as a rookie in 2017 before earning his first double-digit sack season in year two. From there, Watt began his record pace.
Watt earned First-Team All-Pro honors from 2019 to 2021 for a stretch of outstanding and productive seasons. In 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers star recorded 22.5 sacks -- tying Michael Strahan for the all-time single-season record.
After being considered the top edge defender in the NFL by many experts during this stretch, Watt's name is now rarely included among the top three players at his position. Recently, Pro Football Focus released Trevor Sikkema's top-10 edge defender rankings. Watt came in 4th.
Ahead of him in the edge defender rankings are Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons, and Nick Bosa. If we are just basing things on what we saw last year, it's justified to have Watt this low. But I have a feeling he won't be held down for long.
T.J. Watt will rise in EDGE rankings if healthy
Watt's slide on the list of top NFL edge defenders no doubt had to do with his injuries more than anything else. Beginning in 2021, Watt dealt with recurring hip, knee, and groin issues. This caused him to miss two games and exit the contest early in several others. Remarkably, he still tied the single-season sack record that year.
In 2022, Watt tore his pectoral in Week 1 against the Bengals and didn't return to the field until Week 10 following the bye. The former Defensive Player of the Year appeared in 10 total contests, but he clearly wasn't the same when he returned from the pec injury. He also had minor knee surgery while he was sidelined on IR.
As good as Garrett, Parsons, and Bosa are, I truly believe that T.J. Watt could climb back into the good graces of NFL experts during the 2023 season -- these same experts who have Watt slipping in their rankings. While it's possible that Watt has already played his best football, the 28-year-old isn't your run-of-the-mill pass rusher.
Even with missing seven games last season and only recording 5.5 sacks in 2022, Watt is still on a historic pace. He jumped into 3rd on the all-time list of total sacks through six seasons -- only behind Hall of Famers Reggie White and DeMarcus Ware.
Now that Watt is finally healthy and ready to continue at a Hall of Fame pace of his own. In the coming seasons, Watt will have a chance to establish himself as a legendary figure for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we know how determined he is. T.J. Watt is going to bounce back in 2023 and show the league why he's still the best in the game.