T.J. Watt has quickly ascended into one of the most beloved players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current roster. In three seasons he's already been a finalist for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, a finalist for the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2-time Pro-Bowler (2018-19), an All-Pro, and the team MVP in 2019. He’s continued to get better each and every week and is just about to hit the prime of his career.
Watt is due to explode in the next few seasons, likely hitting highs a Steelers outside linebacker has never reached. If I'm being honest, a 20 sack, 10 forced fumble season doesn't appear out of the question for the youngest Watt brother.
If Watt were to average 13 sacks-a-season over the next 5 years he’d be sitting at 99.5 career sacks and the all-time Steelers sack leader by 19 sacks.
At just 30 years old!
So what would it take for Watt to become recognized by Steelers Nation as its best all-time outside linebacker, modern defensive player, or even best defensive/overall player in franchise history?
Let's start small and work our way up.
Who he’s chasing: James Harrison
Most important stat: Sacks (80.5)
What he has to do: Given how James Harrison’s tenure ended I think he has made it easier for Watt to supplant him in the minds of Steelers fans. I think the most important thing Watt has to achieve for this title is simply out sacking Harrison at a fairly-young age. A conservative estimate could see Watt breaking the century sack mark at the age of 31, meaning he could become the Steelers sack king near the end of his 7th pro season.
Likelihood: Very likely
Modern Defensive Player
Who he’s chasing: Troy Polamalu
Things he must achieve: A Super Bowl championship, 1-2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, a long and healthy career
What does he have to do: Things get increasingly harder for Watt to surpass the 2020 Hall-of-Famer’s legacy. But it’s not impossible. If Watt can consistently be the considered one of the best linebackers in football over the next decade, break some records, win awards, and bring another ring to the ‘burgh, I could see Steelers fans one day calling Watt the best defensive player of the last 40-50 years (considering the year would be around 2035). Where the crack lies is in longevity. Yes, Troy was forced to retire before he wanted to, and yes he did lose 4 or more games due to injury in 4 of his 12 seasons. If Watt could play 15+ seasons with the majority of those seasons ending with All-Pro nominations he could quite possibly build a resume worthy of surpassing Polamalu’s legacy.
All-time Defensive player/G.O.A.T
Who he's chasing: Joe Greene
Things he must achieve: Multiple Championships, 2-3 Defensive Player of the Years, near or breaking Bruce Smith’s all-time NFL sack mark.
Things he must achieve: For starters, we must remind ourselves that Joe Greene is one of the greatest football players to ever step on the field. Anyone who could be ranked near or at that level is a very special player.
Another thing we should consider is that since the start of the free agency era winning multiple championships is increasingly more difficult. Winning two championships in today’s NFL is equally impressive to winning 4 in an era where you don't lose any players.
That being said, Watt would have to go on an absolute burner, I’m not kidding when I say he wouldn't just have to play at a DPOY pace, but an MVP pace. To think if he retired with 180 sacks, 2 DPOYs, and 2 Super Bowl rings, people would still question if he's even worthy of being in the same conversation as Mean Joe. He’d probably have to do all that plus some sort of legendary play that goes down in NFL history, or have a season with a stat line so absurd that even non-football fans would be standing around talking about.
Even then, there are some fans that will never changed their belief that Joe Greene is the greatest Steeler of all-time. No matter the stat line, or awards won, or what they do for the community. To many he’ll always be the G.OA.T.
Likelihood: Virtually impossible
Is it a bit ridiculous to bring this up now, just three seasons into T.J.’s career? Yes. But he's shown flashes and put up numbers unlike any Steelers player in recent history within those years.
So what do you think? What do you think T.J. Watt’s Steeler legacy will be? How many sacks do you think he'd retire with?