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Ryan Shazier Thinks T.J. Watt is the Best Defensive Player in the Game



Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt

It took Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt only 89 career games to break James Harrison’s all-time franchise sack record. In seven seasons with the Steelers, Watt has six Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pro selections, has led the league in sacks three times, and is tied with Michael Strahan for the NFL all-time single-season sack record at 22.5. Watt tied the record in his 2021 League MVP season. That’s another thing, Watt has been snubbed multiple times for NFL DPOY. The great Aaron Donald has even said so.

He’s pretty much already a lock to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Watt was a top-flight prospect coming out of Wisconsin in 2017, but he wasn’t considered a can’t-miss pick. He was a late bloomer at the outside linebacker position, only starting one year in college. There were also injury concerns with his knees. Some thought the Watt selection at 30th overall was a reach by the Steelers and they we’re caught up too much in the bloodlines of him being J.J. Watt’s younger brother. It turns out that they were flat-out wrong.

Former Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier recently revealed on the North Shore Drive Podcast with Christopher Carter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he knew Watt was the truth once he saw him in person.

“So, the one thing about T.J. when he first came, I remember one of my good friends – he went to Wisconsin with him as well – was like, ‘Man, T.J.’s gonna come there and do [an] amazing job, he’s gonna be great. Watch.’ And I was like, ‘Man, are you sure?’ He was like, ‘Watch, like T.J.’s gonna be, like, a dawg.’ And… when I first seen him [Watt], I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy,’ because the one thing about T.J. that you really learn is that he’s somebody who’s gonna work his tail off every single day. He’s somebody that’s not gonna let anybody outwork him, he’s gonna hustle really — for every play, and he’s gonna make every — he makes every play count. He makes sure that he doesn’t take anything for granted, and those guys who don’t take anything for granted and let every single play count and put in the extra effort every single day, those are the ones that become great,” Shazier said.

“So, it’s not — to me, it’s not surprising that T.J. is great. The thing is — and it’s also not surprising that he’s winning awards. The thing is, it’s just crazy, because… you knew, like, this guy had the talent, but now you’re actually seeing it come to fruition, and it’s like, ‘Man, this guy is really the best player in the NFL, on the defensive side of the ball’… I don’t think there’s a defensive player in the league that’s better than him.”

Watt put up better numbers in almost every major statistical category than NFL DPOY Myles Garrett in 2023. The Browns star pass rusher edged Watt out in Pro Football Focus’ overall grading and pass rush win rate metric, however. Some voters like Peter King hold that in high regard, hence why he voted for him.

Watt had 68 tackles, compared to Garrett’s 42. Watt had 19 tackles for loss compared to Garrett’s 17. Watt had 36 quarterback hits compare to 30 for Garrett. Each had four forced fumbles, but Watt had three recoveries compared to Garrett’s one. Watt also returned one of those fumbles for the only defensive touchdown of the season between the two players, which happened to be the game-sealing play in the Week 2 game between the Steelers and Browns at Acrisure Stadium.

During an appearance on the Green Light Podcast with Chris Long, former Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald reiterated that Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, as well.

“If you wanna say that next guy, that defensive player, I would say right now it’s T.J. Watt,” Donald said. “If you’re talking about that’s doing it year in, year out, consistently, that’s going to get you 15, 13, damn, 22 sacks. He’s the one that’s been doing it consistently.

“Interceptions every year. Touchdowns. His stats are ridiculous every single year. I feel like he’s that guy to me. I know you’ve got Micah Parsons coming up. Myles Garrett. You’ve got a bunch of good players. But from the time I first saw T.J. Watt to the last year, he’s consistently been dominating in this league. Just a lot of respect for him, and I think he’s that guy.”