Does T.J. Watt Have a Legitimate DPOY Case This Season?

Should Pittsburgh Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt win the NFL's 2023-2024 Defensive Player of the Year? We break down his case for the award.

The 2023-24 season was fascinating on both sides of the ball in regards to individual season awards. Just as no player separated themselves as the clear-cut MVP, no defensive player pulled away from the pack. Should Pittsburgh Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt be the front-runner for the Defensive Player of the Year Award?

T.J. Watt’s DPOY Case

The Neanderthal fan would look at Watt’s traditional box score stats and claim that Watt should be the league’s DPOY front-runner. He is currently tied for the league lead in sacks. But he also has an impressive interception, has forced four fumbles, deflected eight passes, and even recovered a fumble for a touchdown earlier this season.

In other words, Watt oozes production. Those are stats that other pass rushers do not boast. But that has always been the case. His accumulation of traditional production has been consistent throughout his career.

But Watt also entered Week 18 with 82 pressures. Both Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions believe in that number, although he ranks seventh in the league according to PFF and sixth according to SIS.

SIS also ranks him first in batted passes among defensive ends and linebackers while ranking third in sack rate and sixth in pressure rate.

Watt’s 44 defensive stops are tied for fourth in the NFL heading into Week 18, and he has long been one of the more impressive run defenders in the NFL at the position.

Is his DPOY competition (with better odds to win the award) really boasting better production?

Stacking the Competition

The DPOY feels like a lifetime achievement award at this point. With defenders producing at relatively the same rate, it’s become “Whose turn is it this time?” But, in reality, that’s not the worst thing in the world when there is so much insane talent in the NFL.

Take, for example, Myles Garrett. Garrett has been arguably the best pass rusher on the planet alongside Watt for years now, but he does not have the hardware to show for it. Last season was the first time he received votes for it at all.

But in 2023, he’s the odds-on favorite to win the award heading into Week 18. And while he’s certainly had a fantastic year, he might finish with fewer sacks this season than he did in each of the previous two.

But maybe many of the voters have shifted their focus to more advanced metrics like pass-rush win rate, pressures, and overall pass-rush productivity. Maybe the voters are evolving.

SIS credits him with 76 pressures compared to Watt’s 82. However, PFF gives Garrett the edge, 86 to 82. SIS also credits Watt with a slightly higher pressure rate. But PFF believes Garrett has the highest win rate in the league for all plays and true dropbacks.

So maybe the voters have PFF but aren’t privy to SIS?

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Realistically, either player is worthy. Each fanbase hates the other, and the argument between Garrett and Watt brings out the torches and pitchforks.

That seems especially true on the side of Steelers’ fandom because many top analysts prefer Garrett for a myriad of reasons, the main one being that he wins in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion.

But they are not the only two candidates.

Micah Parsons probably has the best overall case for the award, aside from one main issue. His 13 sacks don’t stack up to Garrett’s 16 or Watt’s 17.

According to PFF, Parsons is the only NFL player with over 100 pressures heading into the final week of the season. According to SIS, he has the highest pressure rate in the league, although Aidan Hutchinson and Maxx Crosby have more total pressures in their eyes.

But according to ESPN, Parsons mops the floor in win rate, all while being double-teamed at a higher rate than any edge defender in the NFL.

Any of those three defenders are deserving of the trophy. The Cowboys’ defense doesn’t work without Parsons. Garrett is by far the best player on the best defense in the NFL. Watt is the star of a defense that somehow survived much of the season with Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace playing cornerback. That Steelers team won 10 games, and it certainly wasn’t because of their offense.

But it’s also unfortunate that Crosby has seemingly never been in consideration. The Raiders’ defensive end plays more defensive snaps than any defensive lineman in the NFL by a mile. The Raiders have arguably less talent than Pittsburgh, but somehow, that defense completely changed its fortunes in 2023.

There is no more selfless and tenacious defensive player in the league. Against the Ravens, with his knee visibly swollen, he was livid when he came off the field late in a blowout loss. He competes with the top three in total production, but Crosby might quietly be the best of the four defending the run.

He’s come a long way from being a high-ceiling draft dart with great bend and explosiveness. If there was a Defensive MVP Award, he would get my vote.

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