Steelers T.J. Watt deserved DPOY in 2020
By: Zac Alfers
For the second consecutive season, T.J. Watt was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award he rightfully deserves. Last year the NFL Honors voting committee snubbed the Steelers’ edge rusher for New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. This year, the 2020 NFL DPOY was awarded to Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald. Personally, I don’t buy it.
Donald beat Watt by a slim 27-to-20 margin, so at least the voting was close. The process though seemed to be skewed in Donald’s favor and reminds me of a UFC title fight. AD represents the reigning champ and Watt the aspiring challenger. The champ often retains the belt if they aren’t knocked out or submitted. Even if the challenger has an amazing fight and would have won in non-title fight circumstances, the judges rule in favor of the person who’s been there before. You can make the argument that for Watt to win he would have to knock out Donald. Who let’s face it, is one of the best defensive players in the game since he entered the league in 2014. However, I believe T.J. absolutely did enough this season to dethrone the Rams superstar.
PRECEDENT FAVORS WATT
Watt was just as good in run support as Donald and finished with more pass-rushing stats. T.J. led the entire NFL last year in sacks, TFL’s, and QB pressures and if that sounds impressive to you, that’s because it is. This feat has only been accomplished three other times in the last 15 years. Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt, T.J.’s older brother, did it twice in 2012 and 2015 while Aaron Donald achieved the same in 2018. To no one’s surprise, all three feats were honored with the DPOY award. Why was T.J. Watt not given the same respect from the voting committee?
WATT PLAYS FOR A BETTER TEAM
T.J. Watt’s play was absolutely tremendous this year and most of the voting committee members would contest to that fact. I’ve identified two reasons the committee gave the award to AD. My problem is both are completely out of Watt’s control. The biggest argument I’ve seen being made in favor of AD is that the Rams defense is an overall inferior unit to the Steeler’s defense. This leads to Aaron Donald being double-teamed more often than T.J. Watt. I understand the point, but I don’t think Watt should be punished for being on a better team. In my opinion, that’s another reason in support of Watt. Even with better players around him, T.J. continued to shine. He was the best player on an elite defense and still was able to separate himself from the rest of the pack. When you consider who else is on Pittsburg’s defense, (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt) it really shows how remarkable Watt’s play actually was. He outplayed Donald statistically and helped the Steelers to a better overall team record. The latter part of which, I don’t think has been talked about enough.
THE TWO PLAY DIFFERENT POSITIONS
I think a more reasonable point in support of Aaron Donald is that AD plays interior defensive line while T.J. Watt is an edge rusher/outside linebacker. There isn’t a better player at his position, and no one can disrupt a game like Donald can from the inside. If the award was for best interior D-lineman, AD would be the obvious choice, but we are talking about the best defensive player period, regardless of position. Watt led the league in all of the areas that are most relevant for players who are asked to get after the quarterback. T.J. also showed he can make an impact in coverage as well. The Steelers LB was the only player to tally at least 10 sacks while also recording an interception and at least five passes defended.
T.J. deserved to be this year’s DPOY. Not only did he capture the pass-rush triple crown, (leading the league in sacks, TFL’s, and QB pressures) he did so in just 15 games played. I honestly don’t know what he will have to do to change the minds of the NFL Honors voting committee next year but, I do know he’s not taking this robbery lightly.