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Myles Garrett, not T.J. Watt, considered the best EDGE rusher in the NFL for 2021

Despite past performances, it is Garrett, not Watt, who is considered the best EDGE rusher, per ESPN.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns rivalry goes back decades, and after 2020 there is an increased sense of vigor between the two AFC North opponents. After the Browns knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs in the AFC Wild Card round at Heinz Field, many are projecting the Browns to have a breakout season in 2021.

But this isn’t about the two teams and who will be more successful. This is about the two teams’ best defensive players. ESPN recently ranked the 10 best EDGE pass rushers in the NFL heading into 2021, and it came down between Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt.

Despite Watt being runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, ESPN’s article, which used player and front office voting, chose Garrett as the best pass rusher in the league.

Here is how ESPN came to their final rankings:

We surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive linemen and all the way through tight ends.

For Steelers fans, this just feels wrong. Watt has been dominant in every sense of the word, and many might be wondering what the thought process was for Garrett to be ahead of Watt. Here is what ESPN had to say to justify their ranking:

1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 8

Age: 25 | Last year’s ranking: 5

Garrett and T.J. Watt traded first-place votes throughout the process, with Garrett winning out based on his magnificent traits.

Asking general managers which pass-rusher around which they’d build a defense, most said Garrett. Evaluators weren’t as sold before last season, when they felt Garrett underachieved and would get washed out by a good blocking scheme or seasoned left tackle (and he was also coming off a six-game suspension.) No longer.

“Absolutely made a massive jump last year,” a veteran AFC defensive coach said. “From a physical standpoint setting the edge and as a pass-rusher he’s just gifted. He put it all together. He was so difficult to deal with, snap in and snap out.”

Garrett’s pass-rush win rate of 26.3% last season ranked third among edge rushers despite facing 104 double teams. He won on 15 of those (14.4%), which ranked 12 in the league.

Garrett led all edge rushers in sacks created (16.5), a stat that takes into account plays in which his pressure resulted in a sack for a teammate. He caused 29 incompletions (fourth in the league). Garrett has recorded at least 18 quarterback hits in all four of his NFL seasons.

“Built out of a lab,” an AFC scout said. “Zero weaknesses. Power, bend, speed.”

Now, let’s take a look at what was said about Watt, and why he was ranked where he was heading into the 2021 regular season.

2. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 8

Age: 26 | Last year’s ranking: 7

There’s not a category that Watt doesn’t dominate.

Not only did he lead the league in pass-rush win rate (29.1%), but his four pass-rush interceptions created tied for first, and his 40 caused incompletions led the NFL by a wide margin. Aaron Donald was the next closest at 30. His 15.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss led the league.

And, oh yeah, Watt can play the run and cover tight ends if the defense needs.

“Incredibly productive player in every phase,” an NFC exec said. “Probably has the best combination of motor and smarts in the league. He wins with intelligence, effort, technique, positioning.”

All these factors made a compelling case for the top spot. Some evaluators consider Watt an overachiever.

“The truth is he might not have been the best athlete at his own position,” an NFC defensive coach said, referring to former teammate Bud Dupree, who signed with Tennessee as a free agent. “He’s not the most explosive guy. But he’s so damn relentless and smart and technically perfect that he just wins. He’ll probably have a Hall of Fame career for all those reasons.”

If you are honest about this debate, you know how good Garrett is as a pass rusher. His size and speed is unparalleled in the NFL, and he and Watt will likely be compared head-to-head for years to come. They are different in every aspect of the word. Watt wins with pure athleticism and effort, while Garrett’s strength provides him the ability to win in multiple ways.

What do you think of the rankings? Do you think Watt was slighted, or were the rankings spot on? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to follow BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

In case you are curious, here is ESPN’s Top 10 list of EDGE rushers heading into 2021:

Top 10 EDGE rushers in 2021

1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
2. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
4. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
5. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
6. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
7. Chase Young, Washington Football Team
8. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
9. Cam Jordan, New Orleans Saints
10. Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings