T.J. Watt as the MVP of the NFL: 3 reasons why it makes perfect sense

Vincent Frank

T.J. Watt has been the most valuable player to his team in the NFL through 13 weeks. There’s absolutely no question about it.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a shell of their former selves. Their veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has been more of a deterent to success than anything else. Despite this, Pittsburgh sits at 6-5-1 and could very well earn a playoff spot.

That’s one of the many reasons Watt should come away with NFL MVP this season. Here’s a look at why.

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T.J. Watt has dominated on a consistent basis

t.j. watt, nfl mvp
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not that Watt has had one or two games of dominant-level play. He’s been a consistent force in the offensive backfield outside of the two outings the former first-round pick missed to injury. Heck, he’s on pace to break the single-season sack record despite missing those two games. It really has been something to behold.

T.J. Watt stats by game

OpponentTacklesLossSacksQB hitsForced fumble
Buffalo Bills31251
Las Vegas Raiders40111
Green Bay Packers42220
Denver Broncos31020
Seattle Seahawks732.021
Cleveland Browns611.530
Chicago Bears73330
Detroit Lions52120
Cincinnati Bengals20000
Baltimore Ravens633.531
Totals (10 games) 471616264
Per Pro Football Reference

Through 13 weeks, T.J. Watt leads the NFL in sacks and is tied with Nick Bosa for the most quarterback hits. He’s recorded a quarterback take down in all but two games. That’s insane stuff right there.

From an advanced stats perspective, Watt’s importance to the Steelers is even more magnified. Watt has 16 sacks on just 271 pass-rush attempts. That’s an absurd sack rate of 5.9%. To put this into perspective, Nick Bosa’s sack rate stands at 3.2% and he’s in the running for Defensive Player of the Year with Watt.

Related: Pittsburgh Steelers schedule and game-by-game predictions

In Week 13’s huge win over the Baltimore Ravens, Watt pressured mobile quarterback Lamar Jackson a total of 11 times. He boasted a win rate at the line of scrimmage of 35.3%. Again, these are numbers we just don’t see from edge rushers.

We’re talking about impact on the game and importance to the team. We’re not talking about big names, positions that get more press or previous seasons. Watt has been the most instrumental of any Steelers player as it relates to keeping this team in playoff positioning despite Ben Roethlisberger’s regression and major struggles on the offensive side of the ball.

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There’s no frontrunner for NFL MVP at QB position

patrick mahomes more valuable than t.j. watt?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s look at the past several NFL MVP winners, all of which played quarterback. Each of these players have not lived up to expectations of previous seasons. It’s really not up for debate.

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has thrown 23 touchdowns in 11 games and is on pace for 33 passing scores. He connected on 48 touchdowns a season ago. Lamar Jackson won the award back in 2019 after accounting for 43 touchdowns against six interceptions. Thus far this season, the Ravens’ star has already turned the ball over 16 times.

Patrick Mahomes has seen the most regression of the three quarterbacks who have come away with the award most recently. The former MVP has thrown 25 touchdowns agianst 12 interceptions. He tallied 11 picks in the past two seasons combined. Overall, Mahomes has turned the ball over 15 times in 12 starts.

None of these numbers are indicative of a quarterbawck winning the award. We can go down the line with the likes of Tom Brady and Dak Prescott, and come away with the same conclusion.

Lawrence Taylor was the last defender to win MVP back in 1986. That was an era defined by dominant defensive play around the NFL. The Hall of Famer recorded 20.5 sacks that season, helping the New York Giants to a 14-2 record. It’s the very same season that saw Phil Simms throw more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (21) for the Giants despite them earning the Super Bowl title.

In today’s offensive-minded NFL, a team remaining in contention despite issues on that side of the ball has to be worth something. We’re seeing it with Big Ben in Pittsburgh. And in reality, this alone should warrant consideration for the MVP for Watt.

T.J. Watt is the definition of the NFL’s changing dynamics

pittsburgh steelers t.j. watt
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The valuation of edge pass rushers in today’s NFL seems to be a somewhat new trend. Outside of the quarterback position, teams tends to look in this direction within the top 10 of the NFL Draft more than any other. It really is backed up by data. Real data. Facts. The science of numbers.

While the 2021 NFL Draft did not have a single edge rusher go in the top-10 picks, that was more about a lack of top-end talent at the position. It’s also an outlier. Just look at the past several drafts before 2021.

  • 2020: Chase Young (#1)
  • 2019: Nick Bosa (#2), Clelin Ferrell (#4), Josh Allen (#7)
  • 2018: Bradley Chubb (#5)
  • 2017: Myles Garrett (#1), Solomon Thomas (#3)
  • 2016: Joey Bosa (#3), DeForest Buckner (#7), Leonard Floyd (#9)

That’s a total of 10 top-10 picks among edge rushers in the five drafts prior to 2021. This number includes five top-three picks, which is second behind only the quarterback position during that span. We’re also expecting multiple edge rushers to go right at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft.

What’s the point? NFL front offices are valuing edge rushers at a near all-time high clip. The reasoning is rather simple. In today’s pass-first league, quarterbacks tend to struggle more with pressure from the outside.

That’s led to renewed impact from edge rushers, some of whom are making huge differences in the game. This year, T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa are three primary examples of this.

If NFL front offices have taken the turn and respect this position more in the past, it’s now time that NFL MVP voters do the same.