Should T.J. Watt Be Considered A Legitimate Candidate For DROY?

While I’ve yet to see any odds related to the subject, it’s evident so far this offseason that none of the “experts” believe Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has a legitimate chance at being named the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s certainly somewhat understandable being as several of this year’s first-round draft picks who play on the defensive side of the football enter the league with more accomplishments than Watt in addition to more experience. Even so, while Watt obviously shouldn’t be considered a favorite to win the annual Defensive Rookie of the Year award, he figures to have a fighter’s chance just the same.

For starters, you must go all the way back to the 2006 season to find a player who wasn’t drafted in the first round that ultimately won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. That player was inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second-round. Ryans, in case you forgot, registered a stellar stat line during his rookie season that included him finishing second in the NFL that year in total tackles with 156. He also registered 3.5 sacks that season to go along with 13 total tackles for a loss. In short, it will be surprising if one of this year’s 19 first-round defensive players doesn’t win the annual Defensive Rookie of the Year award after the 2017 season.

Now, dating back to 1999, only one time has a defensive back been named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and that happened just a few years ago when Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters accomplished the feat thanks mainly to his league-best 8 interceptions. That was one heck of an accomplishment and one that’s unlikely to be duplicated for some time. Basically, for a defensive back to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in any given year, that player more than likely needs 6 or more interceptions just to have a chance.

Of this year’s 19 first-round defensive players, 8 are defensive backs. By the way, 3 of those 8 play safety and we haven’t seen a rookie playing that position win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award since the 1990 season when Mark Carrier accomplished the feat with the Chicago Bears. In short, I would bet strongly against any defensive back winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2017 for obvious reasons.

If you go back through the trends I’ve already cited, one must think that Watt is one of 11 players with a much better than average chance of winning the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Of those 11 players, three are off-the-ball linebacker types in Haason Reddick, Jarrad Davis and Reuben Foster.

As we’ve seen in the past, in order for an off-the-ball linebacker to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, it usually includes said player needing to register well over 100 total tackles during the regular season, being as that position normally doesn’t allow players the opportunity to get very many sacks. With that said, the Defensive Rookie of the Year award has been won by an off-the-ball linebacker five times dating back to 2006, so you definitely can’t rule out the aforementioned players as being serious contenders in 2017 based on past history.

When it comes to rookie edge rushers and defensive line types, it’s obvious that sacks, tackles for losses and stuffs are the key stats related to their chances of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Just last year, San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa easily won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award even though he only played in 12 games. Bosa, by the way, registered 10.5 sacks in just 561 total defensive snaps played and that makes his rookie season accomplishments even more impressive.

Ok, now back to Watt and his chances of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2017.

With veteran outside linebacker James Harrison still in Pittsburgh, it’s not hard to imagine him beginning the regular season as the starter on the right side ahead of Watt and thus playing the lion’s share of the snaps during the first quarter of the regular season. While that might ultimately wind up being the case, you can bet that Watt will see playing time right away. The offseason reports on Watt from his teammates, coaches and members of the media have been glowing so far and that’s probably not too surprising being as he enters the NFL with a strong football pedigree, a great work ethic and a very above average football IQ.

Assuming Watt remains on his perceived upward trajectory throughout training camp and the preseason, in addition to keeping himself healthy, it’s easy to project him playing at least 500 defensive snaps on the low side during the regular season. As previously noted, Bosa only played 561 defensive snaps during his rookie season, but with that stat reiterated, Watt will undoubtedly be asked to drop into coverage some during his rookie playing time and that’s something the Chargers defensive end wasn’t asked to do much of, if any at all. When Watt is asked to drop into coverage, it will obviously come at the expense of him being able to rush the opposing quarterback.

Now, for Watt to have a chance at hitting 10 sacks or more during his rookie season, he might need to play roughly 700 defensive snaps. In short, he’ll probably need to average roughly 40 snaps a game during his rookie season at a minimum. If Watt can overtake Harrison for the lion’s share of snaps on the right side by the middle of the regular season, he might have a shot at double digit sacks if he can manage 3 or 4 quarterback take-downs by the time the Steelers bye week rolls around. It’s not unthinkable that such a scenario might happen and especially when you consider the fact that the Steelers will be doing everything in their power to get their first-round draft pick on the field as much as possible in addition to them trying to preserve the now 39-year-old Harrison.

Make no mistake, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett should all be legitimate early candidates to win the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year award as all three will likely to get plenty of playing time right away. Also, as previously mentioned, Reddick, Davis and Foster all can’t be discounted for the same reasons. Regardless, Watt shouldn’t be ignored as a candidate to win the award this year, long odds and all.

NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year Stat Lines (2007-2016)
2016Joey BosaChargers121141291217710.501
2015Marcus PetersChiefs16166053720026821
2014Aaron DonaldSt. Louis Rams16124838101810912
2013Sheldon RichardsonNew York Jets16157842361293.511
2012Luke KuechlyCarolina Panthers16161641036112718200
2011Von MillerDenver Broncos151564501419711.542
2010Ndamukong SuhDetroit Lions1616664917136103101
2009Brian CushingHouston Texans16161338647127410402
2008Jerod MayoNew England Patriots16161281002853041
2007Patrick WillisSan Francisco 49ers16161741353987452

  • Ken Krampert

    We have what, 5 more weeks of these ridiculous articles? Why dont we just do a mock draft for next year and place odds on the 2019 ROY while we are at it? Ya, I know, I don’t have to read them… worries, I just read the headline, haha

  • Steelers12

    i think he has no shot at this award, i believe Reuben Foster will win this award due to being able to get a lot of tackles on a weaker defense

  • pittfan

    That’s some awfully good players listed there. It would great if he were just in the running

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I think if he gets double digit sacks he would get it guaranteed the droy award, but it’s a ton of good dbs in this draft and Watt will have to hit the ground running from jump!

  • SteelersDepot

    Take the rest of the summer off.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I can answer the question after the pre season, as he is going to be going against starters. If he looks good,
    I’d throw his hat into the ring. I’m not concerned about his motor, his football intelligence or ability. The only thing I’m concerned about, are those surgeries on both knees.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Mock draft? Did I hear mock draft? Dave, Alex… Strike up the player profiles. Im ready.

  • SteelersDepot

    Feels like I just finished my final one of 2017.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Without a long snapper, I might add (LOL).

  • Michael Mosgrove

    right now? gtfo.

  • JB Burgess

    Keith Butler is the DC. Forget it…

  • H.K. northern cali

    Steelers take a q.b in the first rd.2018

  • Ken Krampert

    Done, I will wait for salty articles from Bouchette……

  • Big White

    No. Not enough snaps with Mr. Harrison nearby.

  • Applebite

    As long as his play speaks for him. We don’t know what he’s going to do or what the snap count will end up being.

  • WARisHELL- DuDu Shits-Poopster

    I had this conversation just yesterday. I don’t think he’ll win it, but should he flash early with some big plays the media will be all over him because of his last name. That could be enough to propel him to DROY.

  • Ace

    This. If he performs well enough to be in consideration his last name will bump him up enough to get it.


    he wont even start so no

  • Steelsmoke

    All we can do is focus on the facts. He is a head of the curve. Has played in similar defense. Has serious expectations for his self and let’s nothing get in his way. It’s up to the staff and injury that will hold him back. CUT HIS CHAIN !

  • Steelsmoke

    He is a mutant don’t​ use him strictly as a olb on packages

  • Hec

    I’ll be contempt with realistic expectations and appreciate whatever else he adds to his personal accomplishments on his first year.

  • blue

    Gonna hurt seeing Ruben Foster win DROY after passing on him in the draft.

  • Steelsmoke

    Gonna hurt his team win he acts otta his game

  • Dshoff

    It’s got to help that he is getting a lot of snaps with the first team against the first team OL. But if he gets only 5 sacks I’d be happy. Plus you have to know that if he starts out the season hot and gets a couple of sacks early, Butler will then use him as a decoy and drop him into coverage more. 🙂

  • John Pennington

    Haven’t even put on pads yet cant believe anyone talking DPOY.Lets see how he handles NFL tackles and guards first.Lets see how he handles himself in drills.Might not be what you think.

  • mokhkw

    Impossible to say at this stage but you could do worse than to bet on a “bloodline” player like Clay Matthews, Chris & Kyle Long, Cam Heyward etc. I just don’t see a 50/50 snap sharing with Debo in 2017 and that limits his chances.

  • Gautama Om

    Agreed. I was thinking this already when i read the title.

    He’s already got an up hill battle for this title going against some very good picks in this draft (DB’s and EDGE) but sharing the snap count with Deebo is the final nail in the coffin for this discussion.

    If he catches on really early, say by game 4 and starts, he’ll still share some of the snap count with Deebo from there on out anyways. Best case scenario, Watt will have 700 snaps and that’s not going to be enough snaps for him to get the stats to win this.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    dupree got 4 in his rookie season and people got angry. so meh.

  • StolenUpVotes

    Ask me in mid December. I’ll have an answer for you then

  • Conserv_58

    We have nothing to go by to adequately answer that question. The rookies haven’t even put pads on yet. The end of training camp and the pre season games would have been a better time to ask this question.

  • Scunge

    I could care less about TJ winning DROY. If he can come in and have the same impact that Clay Matthews had at OLB for Green Bay in 2009, I will take that every time.

    Matthews had, 50 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 3 fumble recoveries, one that he ran back for a TD, 1 FF and 10 sacks, and made the Pro Bowl. In his one playoff game that year he had 5 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 1 sack.

    I hope TJ Watt can come in and do what Matthews did.

  • Mark Tercsak

    When I, was growing up, they did not hand out Trophies,like cupcakes , you actually had to work and you actually had to Earn it , I’am not enthralled with with handing out Trophies for personnel achievements in football to begin with, in my opinion after all it’s supposed to be the ultimate Team Game.

    Trophies should be handed out to the Top Offensive and Top Defensive and Top Special Units and that would be about as close to a personnel Trophy as one would get.

  • Brenton deed

    He ticks all the boxes yes… but he doesn’t pass the eye test for “awesome”. He needs to have arms like Greg Lloyd at least.

  • RickM

    League-wide MVP awards have been given out in baseball and football for 60 years. And NFL Rookie of the Year awards have been given out since 1967, i.e. 50 years. Guys who win them work hard and earn them over hundreds of other players.

    I think you’re getting “participation” awards confused with elite, long-standing personal awards. If you’ve had opposition since the 50’s and 60’s to awards like the Cy Young, NFL MVP, NFL Rookies of the Year, etc., no sweat. But most have no problem with these recognitions.

  • John Errigo

    You mean he can only play one side?

  • Shane Mitchell

    I dont think so either, seems to have narrow shoulders for a football player.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Dave has gone full Homer on this one, possible double digit sacks? I can only think of few OLBs that have been able to put up double digit sacks as a rookie in the history of the NFL. It takes a generational talent to come close to double digit sacks as a rookie OLB.

    Lawrence Taylor- 9.5 sacks
    Derrick Thomas- 10 sacks
    Von Miller- 11.5 sacks
    TJ Watt- ?????

  • Mike Rowan

    Are there any indications that he could get snaps on the other side as well, in relief of Dupree? Moats is a more than capable backup, but if he comes even close to living up to the hype he’s gotten coming out of training camp, then I’m wondering if they’ll find ways to get their best players on the field as much as possible (which figures to include both Harrison and Dupree if their play at the end of the year is any indication).

    In any case, I’m sure the coaching staff will be keen to limit Harrison’s snaps so he’s almost sure to be on the field a lot in any case.

    Consider, too, that, if injuries or other issues don’t stand in the way, the Steelers figure to be pretty dominant next year. Blowing teams out, combined with the prospect of meaningless games at the end of the year, could also get Watts on the field more, as well as provide him with more opportunities for sacks if teams are forced to throw a lot. And all the more so if that’s the case with bad teams (e.g, the Browns) with not-very good QB’s.

    Interesting point about the DB’s and later-round picks, which, if trends continue, means that he’ll be in a limited pool of competition.

    Playing on a potentially good defense could help as well, particularly with the prospects of having two defensive ends who’ve proven they can put pressure on the QB and, in Butler’s system, are expected to do so. I could foresee sacks coming to Watts and the other OLB’s by virtue of Heyward and Tuitt flushing QB’s out of the pocket. Same thing with Shazier’s blitzes.

    Also, the secondary promises to get better and we’ve already seen that the coaching staff has recognized schematic problems that it seems like they’re prepared to address. And, of course, good coverage usually means more sacks (and vice versa).

    Combine all of this with everything that’s been said about Watts pre- and post-draft, I think it’s at least safe to predict that he’s not a guy who’s going to give up on plays or be out of place very often. So maybe 10+ sacks could end up happening not because Watts is or will ever be in anywhere near as good as LT, DT, and Von Miller (see other comment), but because his hustle and discipline, combined with what other players are doing, will get him some hustle sacks.

    I think a more likely ideal scenario, though, would be him picking up 6-8 sacks, playing solid against the run, and making a few other splash plays. The piece on the Steelers still dropping OLB’s into coverage seems relevant here. Besides what’s already been mentioned, I’m guessing Watts’ hands must be pretty decent given that he was once I TE (I seem to remember his brother having pretty good ones as well), so maybe a couple of INT’s will be in the offing too. That would be a great season, which, combined with the name recognition he’ll get for one very obvious reason, DROY doesn’t seem at all implausible to me.

    Does any of it matter? Of course not, but it’s fun to think about. All of which is, of course, true about the games too. And the entire game of football …. And sports …


    Please keep writing.

    Great off-season think-piece during, ahem, the off-season.

  • Shane Mitchell

    One sports Book I saw online has TJ Watts odds at being DROY at 12/1

    Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns: 7/2
    Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints: 8/1
    Jamal Adams, New York Jets: 8/1
    Takkarist McKinley, Atlanta Falcons: 9/1
    T.J Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers: 12/1
    Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts: 12/1
    Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers: 14/1
    Jonathan Allen, Washington Redskins: 16/1

  • Mike Rowan

    That seems about right to me. Other moving parts (see my earlier post) are at work. It’s not just about the talent of the player as some seem to think when they look at this kind of question. Thanks for posting.

  • Mike Rowan

    I wonder what the odds are of Roethlisberger winning MVP this year vs. last year. If they’re appreciably better this year than last, I’m sure that’s not because Vegas et al. think that he’s going to markedly improve as a player. It would be primarily because of Martavius Bryant and the prospect that all else will be roughly equal, if not a little better.

  • Joseph Shaw

    I’m a huge Watt fan, but this is the very definition of getting waaaaaaaaaay ahead of ourselves here…

  • Bradys_Dad

    At this juncture, the long snapper has a shot at ROY accolades. It’s just fun filler folks – lighten up.