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Why Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt is the 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

T.J. Watt deserves to be Defensive Player of the Year

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s a debate that has raged on for months on social media- should T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year? While there are some write-ins for Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys and Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders, Watt and Garrett are the predominant two front-runners for the award.

At the peak of this debate seems to be a war between Steelers fans and the gentlemen over at Pro Football Focus.

Obviously, Steelers fans, and those in the “Team Watt” camp, if you will, look at the fact that Watt leads the NFL in sacks, and has more tackles for loss, batted passes, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns than Garrett and say that Watt should be Defensive Player of the Year.

The PFF squad lean on the advanced metric side of things and point to Garrett having a higher pass rush win rate, PRP (a formula that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer), and grades higher as a pass rusher on their grading scale and use that as their reasoning for Myles Garrett deserving the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Now, I’m not going to shoot on advanced stats and metrics- they are a good tool to use to look past the basis of a box score to get the bigger picture when it comes to a player’s performance. However, much like a box score doesn’t tell the entire story, the advances stats also can’t be the be all-end all for an opinion on a player.

PFF values pressures- as they should! Pressures are a great measuring stick to determine how much a player gets to the quarterback and impacts the play, even if he doesn’t get a sack. Well, Watt and Garrett have the same amount of pressures (86). Yet Watt led the NFL in sacks for the third time, and he’s the only player in the history of the sport to do so.

In addition, Watt is only the second player since sacks started being tracked as a stat in 1982 to have at least 19 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 36 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in the same season- and he’s done it twice. He did this for the first time in 2021, and his brother, J.J., did it in 2014- they each won Defensive Player of the Year in those respective seasons.

None of this is meant to discount the terrific year that Garrett has had, because he has been tremendous for the Browns, whose defense is the best in the NFL. And, as previously stated, this isn’t an attempt to dunk on advanced stats. But you can’t say that base stats don’t tell the entire story of a player, while in the same breath insinuate that advanced metrics do. And yes, it is true that Garrett ranks higher than Watt in several of those aforementioned metrics. As already stated, though, it’s also true that Watt has more sacks, tackles, tackles for loss, hits on the quarterback, pass deflections, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns than Garrett.

There is room for common ground and civil discourse when it comes to the Watt vs. Garrett debate. Saying you’d give the award to one doesn’t mean you think any less of the other. Both are great, both will be in Canton one day, and both are two of the 10 best players in football today. I’ll be honest, and some fans may not like hearing this, but I won’t be shaking my fist at the sky if Garrett does win the award. He’s terrific and has had an awesome season for the best defense in the NFL- I’d totally get it. But PFF released their All-Pro team yesterday, and guess who isn’t on it. At this point, it feels like PFF has a vendetta towards T.J. Watt, and that’s the issue that I have, and that most people have. It’s the fact that several people just brush Watt’s season aside, and act as if he isn’t one of the best players in the league, in the name of advanced metrics, which is flat out ignorant and wrong.

I’ll put a bow on everything with this. The best way to analyze a player isn’t solely with box scores or solely with advanced stats- it’s somewhere in the middle. Watt has all of the box stats, but let’s not act like he’s a nobody when it comes to the advanced numbers. He is PFF’s fourth-highest graded rusher and he has a PRP score of 10.3- Garrett’s is 10.8. Acting like Watt isn’t deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year based purely off pass rush win rate, which is what most on the other side of the argument fall back on, is laughable. Watts numbers, both in the box score and in advanced metrics, stack up against anyone in the league because he is the best in the league, which is why he should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.