Edge rushers are an extremely valuable commodity in the NFL nowadays. Elite edge rushers like Myles Garrett, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and more are just as coveted as any position outside of quarterback. Senior NFL Analyst Matt Williamson recently ranked the Top 25 edge rushers in the NFL. For the Steelers, that list includes T.J. Watt, who proved himself to be one of the top edge rushers heading into the 2020 season. However, perhaps surprisingly, Bud Dupree did not make the cut.
Are the rankings fair and justified?
T.J. Watt rated as a top edge rusher in the NFL for 2020
Watt, who had already broken out in his second-year in 2018, took it up a notch in 2019 on his way to his first All-Pro season. After almost winning the Defensive Player of the Year, Watt was a slam dunk for the top 10. Williamson takes that a step further and ranks the talented Steelers edge rushers as the fourth-best edge rusher in the NFL entering 2020. That also places him second in the AFC North, only behind the aforementioned Garrett.
“Watt wasn’t far off the defensive MVP conversation last year and has quickly emerged as one of the league’s very best pass-rushers,” Williamson wrote.
“He is dropping into coverage (something he is also pretty good at) less often now and has developed an amazing ability to pry the ball loose, causing eight fumbles last year. Big brother was outstanding last year when he was on the field, but TJ is now the top Watt in the family,” Williamson noted.
Williamson hit the nail on the head with most of this. In 2019, Watt only dropped back in coverage on 7.2% of his snaps, the lowest mark of his entire career. It was a clear plan from the Steelers, as Bud Dupree, who dropped back a career-low 8.1% of his snaps. The Steelers are rushing their outside linebackers at the quarterback more than ever.
As Williamson also correctly notes, the fumbles Watt caused were substantial last season for the Steelers. His signature punch became a staple on tape when watching the Steelers defense. That aggressiveness parlayed him to those impressive eight forced fumbles last year.
Watt’s ranking is deserved
The stats paint a clear picture that Watt deserves to be a highly rated edge rusher, and that Williamson is by no means overrating Watt here. Despite only registering 1.5 more sacks in 2019, Watt’s pressures, quarterback hits, hurries, and knockdowns all went up in 2019.
He registered 75 pressures, 41 quarterback hits, 47 hurries, and 21 knockdowns, all of which ranked top three in the NFL among edge rushers. Watt’s pressure rate was an NFL best 16.4% pressure rate.
Those pressures are so incredibly high that Watt raked in a pressure every six snaps on average. The quarterback hits mark gives him the Steelers franchise record for most quarterback hits in a season. Watt indeed was remarkable in 2019.
The tape reveals that Watt’s development was primarily due to his counters. In the past, he has been somewhat of a one-trick pony with his speed rush, with little to threaten the inside of tackles that overset. However, that changed in 2019, where he showcased a crisp spin move and a newly added swim move.
This right here is what he was able to do in 2019 that took him to the next level. Since he is so good at bending around that arc to the outside with excellent ankle flexion, tackles overset for the speed rush and got burnt to the inside by astute counters that are only getting better. T.J Watt is a top edge rusher for 2020 and should only see himself go up from here.
Should Bud Dupree have been a second Steelers player in the top 25 edge rushers?
While Watt rated high on Williamson’s list, fellow Steelers edge rusher, Bud Dupree did not crack the list. The real question is, should he have? To make the list, he would have to jump over guys like Dee Ford, Bradley Chubb, Everson Griffen, and Carlos Dunlap.
The thing about Ford is that he is often injured, but when he is on the field, he is a top 20 edge rusher at least. Dupree was healthy last year, but only has one true year of production. In fact, for Dupree, his production only took a modest jump outside of his sack total. He registered eight more quarterback hits and pressures, which is good, but his hurries and knockdowns went down. Dupree’s win rate barely jumped up at all.
That does not mean Dupree’s season was a fluke. There was a noticeable improvement on tape. The power side of his pass-rush ability showed up, and he was much more developed with his hand usage and toolbox there. His elite run defense also helps him out. Still, it is tough to argue he should make it over any of those guys above.
Dupree feels lost almost in the “next five” category. I think there is an undeniable fact that he is a top 30 edge rusher. However, the top 25 is a lot harder to argue since he has not seen the same production jump as the other guys on the list. Ultimately, Dupree is a very talented edge rusher and should be productive once again for the Steelers in 2020.