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A Letter From the Editor: What can we realistically expect from T.J. Watt in 2022?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynamic defender keeps getting better, but what can we realistically expect from Watt this year?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The other day I was on the Steelers Preview podcast with Dave Schofield and Bryan Davis, and I asked them if they still find themselves having favorite players. Players they root for more than others. Both had a unique answer to the question, but Dave brought up a player no one mentioned when we talked about our favorite players on the 2022 roster.

Trent Jordan Watt.

T.J. Watt is a fan favorite, and it got me thinking about his overall production. When you look at the key defensive metrics, he has improved every season since he was drafted in 2017. His overall improvement has been so drastic at times, you have to now ask yourself if/when his production will level off and he’ll come back down to earth with other defenders in the NFL.

Just look at the insane numbers he put up last year, and I’m not just talking about sack totals:


  • Games: 15
  • Pass Defenses: 7
  • Forced Fumbles: 5
  • Fumble Recoveries: 3
  • Sacks: 22.5
  • TFL: 21
  • QB Hits: 39

As I dug into the same metrics from his entire career, I noticed there were years where Watt actually had better years in some statistical categories. Some might argue 2020 was his better season, even though he didn’t have the sack totals of 2021 and wasn’t the league’s defensive player of the year winner. Take a look at those numbers:


  • Games: 15
  • Pass Defenses: 7
  • Forced Fumbles: 2
  • Fumble Recoveries: 0
  • Sacks: 15
  • TFL: 23
  • QB Hits: 41

Looking at the 2017-2019 seasons you see Watt slowly improve his overall production. There are times when I have to remind myself Watt, as a rookie, was the player who pushed James Harrison to the bench, and eventually out of the organization. It was no fluke, the Steelers saw something special in Watt and his play has continued to transcend the previous season since 2017.


  • Games: 16
  • Pass Defenses: 8
  • Forced Fumbles: 8
  • Fumble Recoveries: 4
  • Sacks: 14.5
  • TFL: 14
  • QB Hits: 36


  • Games: 16
  • Pass Defenses: 3
  • Forced Fumbles: 6
  • Fumble Recoveries: 3
  • Sacks: 13
  • TFL: 12
  • QB Hits: 21

2017 (Rookie)

  • Games: 15
  • Pass Defenses: 7
  • Forced Fumbles: 1
  • Fumble Recoveries: 0
  • Sacks: 7
  • TFL: 10
  • QB Hits: 13

Looking at all these numbers, you can’t expect Watt to continue the ascension with key categories, like sacks. In fact, I took a look at players who have had 20+ sacks in a season since 2000. Then I looked at how they did the following season.

Here’s what I found:

2001: Michael Strahan — 22.5 sacks
2002: Michael Strahan — 11 sacks in 16 games

2008: Demarcus Ware — 20 sacks
2009: Demarcus Ware — 11 sacks in 16 games

2011: Jared Allen — 22 sacks
2012: Jared Allen — 12 sacks in 16 games

2012: J.J. Watt — 20.5 sacks
2013: J.J. Watt — 10.5 in 16 games

2014: J.J. Watt — 20 sacks
2015: J.J. Watt — 17.5 in 16 games

2014: Justin Houston — 22 sacks
2015: Justin Houston — 7.5 in 11 games

2018: Aaron Donald — 20.5 sacks
2019: Aaron Donald — 12.5 in 16 games

These statistics are pretty eye-opening, in my opinion, and while it doesn’t mean T.J. Watt will take a huge step backwards, these pass rusher sure did the following year. Only T.J.’s brother J.J. was able to put together a solid season the next year of 15+ sacks in 2015.

This brings me back to the topic at hand. What are the realistic expectations for T.J. Watt in 2022? While it is likely his sack production will dip, will other categories continue to increase?

In my opinion, if Watt’s sack numbers dip, but someone like Alex Highsmith’s increase it is a win-win for the defense. On top of that, if Watt’s stat line in 2022 looks like this, I would feel his season isn’t a step backwards, but him becoming an even more dominant player.


  • Games: 17
  • Pass Defenses: 9 (+2 from 2021)
  • Forced Fumbles: 9 (+4 from 2021 and a career high)
  • Fumble Recoveries: 5 (+2 from 2021 and a career high)
  • Sacks: 17.5 (-5 from 2021)
  • TFL: 25 (+4 from 2021 and a career high)
  • QB Hits: 42 (+3 from 2021 and a career high)

The more digging I did, the more I felt Watt’s sack numbers could dip a bit, but he could continue to dominate in other ways. A lot will depend how he gels with the players playing next to him on the defensive line, as well as how new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin deploys the pass rush with the facilitation of Brian Flores as well.

Could Watt set a new sack record for the NFL in 2022? I’ve watched every snap the man has taken in the NFL, and I know better than to count him out. However, I also realize history doesn’t bode well for Watt achieving this feat. But have no fear Steelers fans, as long as Watt is healthy he will remain a force to be reckoned with, even if his sack numbers come back down to earth a bit.

(Note: The Letter From the Editor feature runs every Sunday morning during the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason.)