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ESPN ranks T.J. Watt as the NFL’s premiere pass rusher

ESPN, unlike, views T.J. Watt as the cream of the crop in terms of pass rushers, and all is right with the world.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base was up in arms Tuesday when ranked second in the “disruptor” category. They used Next Generation (Gen) Stats to justify their argument, giving the nod to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Try Hendrickson.

In case you missed the article, check it out below:

On the heels of this series, ESPN is getting ready to roll out rankings of their own. They will go position by position until training camps start, and they started with one of the most controversial positions in all of football.

Pass rusher.

Steelers and Cleveland Browns fans constantly argue who is better: T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett? In this series last season it was Garrett who got the nod. But not in 2022. Before we get to the Top 10, take a look at how Jeremy Fowler of ESPN shaped these lists:

Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.

The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.

So, where did the Steelers fan base’s favorite son, T.J. Watt, end up on the list? Try where he belongs — No. 1.

ESPN’s Top 10 Pass Rushers

1. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 3

Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 2

Watt claims his first-ever No. 1 ranking here, after jumping from No. 7 in 2020 to No. 2 last year. And his 22.5 sacks to tie Michael Strahan’s single-season record make his case for him. Watt was the unanimous AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. But his impact comes from the total package he brings to the field.

Watt’s 35.5 disrupted dropbacks — which include sacks, interceptions, batted passes and passes defended — ranked first in the NFL last season by a wide margin (Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs was next at 32.0). Furthermore, his 23.1% pass rush win rate ranked seventh overall.

“Rare motor and quickness with his hands, has developed good power, and he can also dip and bend high side,” an AFC exec said. “Basically, he can beat you inside through you or outside. And [the Steelers] bring so much pressure typically that he’s able to add good chase production.”

Where is Watt truly elite? The exec pointed to his ability to locate the quarterback quickly and burst to him if his initial pass-rush move stalls. He’ll stop, look and then close.

As Watt keeps increasing his sack totals every year, the NFL record of 200 held by Bruce Smith is perhaps something he can chase. He is currently sitting on 72.0 takedowns through five seasons.

2. Myles Garrett — Cleveland Browns
3. Nick Bosa — San Francisco 49ers
4. Joey Bosa — Los Angeles Chargers
5. Maxx Crosby — Las Vegas Raiders
6. Von Miller — Buffalo Bills
7. Chandler Jones — Las Vegas Raiders
8. Brian Burns — Carolina Panthers
9. Khalil Mack — Los Angeles Chargers
10. Cameron Jordan — New Orleans Saints

If you want to see more details of why Fowler and company chose Watt over Garrett, click the link before the Top 10. Otherwise, what do you think of the list? Is it the way it should be? Or would you rearrange the order?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.