Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt was obviously a good choice as a first-round pick. He addressed an area of need and he’s quickly shown that he’s more than just J.J. Watt’s little brother. He can play.
But is he doing well enough to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors?
Right now, Watt has four sacks. He’s just barely behind Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Carl Lawson, the top rookie, with 4.5 sacks.
That said, the Steelers are likely going to win the AFC North and the Bengals probably won’t even make the playoffs. It can be argued that that shouldn’t play a role in these awards, but the reality is that it does when the race is close. That same fact holds back Solomon Thomas, who has two sacks but plays for the San Fransisco 49ers, who have yet to win a game.
“Watt hasn’t been as productive on a cumulative basis as Lawson, nor has he been as impressive on a per-snap basis as [Cleveland Browns pass rusher Myles] Garrett,” wrote ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, picking Watt to win the award. “I’m not sure that matters to the electorate as much as playing well on an every-down basis for one of the league’s most successful teams, though, and the Steelers are in great shape to finish as one of the best teams in the league. Watt’s playing time continues to rise as the season goes along, and it would be foolish to pretend his famous last name won’t cause some less-dedicated voters to look his way.”
The case with Garret is interesting. The Browns are also a bottom-dweller in the NFL, and he has been hurt a lot. He has only managed to get on the field for 105 snaps, compared to Watt’s 335. That gives him less exposure. However, he has the same four sacks as Watt with a third of the snaps, meaning his pace would put him at 12 sacks already if he was just on the field as often. As Barnwell puts it, that makes him an intriguing wild card.
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