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Next Gen Stats suggest T.J. Watt wasn’t the best “disruptor” in the NFL last season

The Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker was the defensive player of the year, but not the best “disruptor” according to Next Gen Stats.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is a proud group of individuals. When someone, anyone says something negative about their beloved Steelers, prepare for battle. This would include when a player the fan base deems to be the very best at his position is not listed as such in any of the many offseason lists which run across the NFL landscape.

The latest victim of such a crime? Nick Shook of who is doing Top 10 lists of key metrics using Next Gen Stats to justify his lists. One list which caught the eye of Steelers fans was his Top 10 list of “Disruptors”. Before you go down to the list itself, check out what Shook used to categorize players as a “disruptor”:

In this exercise, I’m using Next Gen Stats data to examine the league’s top disruptors from the 2021 season. Disruptors are defined not just by sacks but plays in which they affect an opposing quarterback. NGS defines a hurry as an instance in which a defender gets within 1.5 yards of a quarterback at any moment between the snap and the release of a pass or a sack, and a pressure is when a defender is within 2 yards of the quarterback at the time he’s releasing a pass or within 1.5 yards of the QB at any point during the play. A sack is — well, you know what that is.

I’m taking a closer look at QB pressures (QBP), QB pressure rate (QBP rate), hurries, sacks and turnovers caused by QB pressure (TO-QBP) to determine who was the best at disrupting quarterbacks in 2021.

Okay, so now let’s get to the part where Steelers fans get up in arms over the results. Check out the Top 10 list, and how Shook had T.J. Watt as the 2nd best in this specific category.

Check it out...

Top 10 Disruptors

10. Darius Leonard — Los Angeles Rams
9. Javon Hargrave — Philadelphia Eagles
8. Aaron Donald — Los Angeles Rams
7. Nick Bosas — San Francisco 49ers
6. Myles Garrett — Cleveland Browns
5. Yannick Ngakoue — Indianapolis Colts
4. Micah Parson — Dallas Cowboys
3. Maxx Crosby — Las Vegas Raiders

2. T.J. Watt — Pittsburgh Steelers

  • QBP: 60
  • QBP rate: 16.3%
  • Hurries: 43
  • Sacks: 22.5
  • TO-QBP: 3

Watt tied the all-time single-season sack record in 2021. He was voted Defensive Player of the Year. And he did it despite missing two full games and most of a third.

Watt posted the highest single-season sack rate (6.1%) of the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). Also, he owns the highest sack rate (3.7%) over the duration of the NGS era (min. 1,500 pass-rush snaps). He’s more efficient at getting home than any rusher in the history of Next Gen Stats. However, he’s second on this list because a player from a division rival happened to post the fourth-highest QB pressure rate in a single season in NGS history and force five turnovers via pressure in 2021.

1. Trey Hendrickson — Cincinnati Bengals

  • QBP: 79
  • QBP rate: 19.4%
  • Hurries: 45
  • Sacks: 14
  • TO-QBP: 5

Some in the football world likely saw Hendrickson’s breakout 2020 campaign as a fluke, and then raised both eyebrows at the Bengals when they signed him to a four-year, $60 million deal last offseason. In hindsight, that deal looks like a bargain.

Hendrickson followed up his 13.5-sack performance — which helped him earn the No. 3 spot on this list a year ago — by registering 79 pressures and 14 sacks. His pressure rate (19.4%) is fourth-best in the NGS era (since 2016). What truly separated Hendrickson from the pack, though, was his ability to cause takeaways. Hendrickson forced five turnovers via pressure, tying with Markus Golden, Randy Gregory, Chandler Jones and Odafe Oweh for the league lead. Only one player from that group had a strong enough body of work to land on this list, and Hendrickson’s was good enough to put him at the top of it.

The statistics certainly make a case for Hendrickson over Watt, but what does the eye test show? For people who watch the game closely, can you really watch the game unfold and say the Top 10 list would play out the same way? Some will say yes, while others will say no.

Either way, this is where you get to chime in on the list. Let us know what you think of the Top 10 list, and Watt being listed at No. 2, in the comment section below. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason and training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.