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PFT’s 2021 defensive player of the year: T.J. Watt

Mike Florio and Chris Simms reflect on the Pittsburgh Steelers overtime win over the Ravens and discuss how their underdog mentality will make them difficult to face in the postseason.

Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt staged a hold-in during training camp and the preseason, as he didn’t practice while waiting for a contract extension.

He finally got it a few days before the start of the season, signing a four-year deal worth $112 million with three of those seasons fully guaranteed.

It’s only been a few months, but Watt’s 2021 season sure makes him look worth every penny.

Watt tied the NFL’s single-season sack record, recording 22.5 in 2021. And while the season expanded to 17 games, he played only 15 of them — missing Week Three and Week 11 due to injury.

His final sack came in Sunday’s win over the Ravens, as he took down quarterback Tyler Huntley late in the second quarter for a 3-yard loss.

But while Watt is one of the league’s best pass rushers, he’s also a stellar run defender. For the second year in a row, he not only led the league in sacks but also in tackles for loss. Watt finished with 21 TFLs in 2021 and had 39 quarterback hits.

He clearly makes Pittsburgh’s defense so much better when he’s on the field.

With his dominance, Watt is PFT’s 2021 defensive player of the year.

Watt was not the only contender. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald could conceivably win it every year given his dominance and the way he elevates players around him. Donald had 12.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, and 25 quarterback hits daily rushing from the interior.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett had a strong year. Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons was great as a rookie. And Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs had 11 picks to lead the league.

But Watt tied a longstanding record en route to helping his team get to the playoffs. That’s plenty to tilt the scale in his favor.