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NFL Honors: T.J. Watt named 2021 AP Defensive Player of the Year; seventh Steelers player to win award

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T.J. Watt had one of the best seasons for a defensive lineman in NFL history, culminated with winning the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award at the NFL Honors ceremony on Thursday night. Watt, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, is the seventh Pittsburgh Steelers player to earn the honor and the first since Troy Polamalu in 2010. 

Watt joins brother J.J. Watt as the first pair of brothers to win Defensive Player of the Year. J.J. Watt won the award three times (2012, 2014, 2015), tied for the most in NFL history. The 2021 season was historic for Watt, as he finished with 22.5 sacks in 14 games — tying Michael Strahan for the single-season sack record.

Watt finished his 2021 season leading the league in sacks, quarterback hits (39) and fumble recoveries (three). He averaged 1.5 sacks per game and finished with 12.5 sacks in the second half and overtime — which also led the league. He’s just the fifth player to lead the league in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterbacks hits in a season — joining DeMarcus Ware, J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, and Aaron Donald

Watt’s 72 career sacks in his first 77 games are the most by any linebacker in NFL history. His 0.94 sacks-per-game average is the highest in league history, as Watt and Reggie White are the only players to have 13-plus sacks in four consecutive seasons. Only White (nine), Bruce Smith (seven) and Kevin Greene (six) have more 13-plus sack seasons than Watt — whose four 13-plus sacks in his first five seasons are tied with White for the most in NFL history. 

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What Watt has been able to accomplish in his first five seasons has been historic, as his 150 quarterback hits over his first 77 games trail only J.J. Watt for the most in league history (most ever for a linebacker). Only White has more sacks (87) over his first 77 games in league history. 

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Watt is etching his mark as one of the best defensive players ever — finally having the hardware to back up that claim. 


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