T.J. Watt was arguably the NFL’s best player last season in much the same way his brother J.J. Watt was arguably the NFL’s best player in 2014. So give genetics credit in that the Watt family knows how to produce dynamic pass rushers.
J.J. collected 75 sacks through his 28th birthday back in 2017, which set the benchmark for his younger brother.
And because T.J. is going to be out the next 5-to-6 games while he rehabilitates a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in the regular-season opener at Cincinnati, he’ll have 73 sacks when he turns 28 years old on Oct. 13.
T.J. Watt Was Picked 30th In The 2017 NFL Draft
The DNA thing is strong with these Watt brothers.
Which is good.
But it merits wariness going forward.
Because J.J. was something of a pass-rushing machine his first five seasons in the NFL and part of that was because he was a cyborg. He never stopped. He could not be sidelined. J.J. could not be sidetracked.
He started 80 out of a possible 80 games from 2011-2015. But something happened to J.J. around the time he turned 27-28: Maybe it was wear and tear or the law of probability, but he started missing games after that.
J.J. has missed 42 games the past six seasons, and missed Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
J.J. Watt Injury History
A litany of injuries began that 2016 season, including a herniated disc in his back that required surgery. There was also a fractured leg, a torn pectoral muscle that cost him eight games in 2019, and a torn labrum and bicep. Those injuries cost him 10 games last year.
J.J. Watt has been a warrior. And his body looks like it has been through the wars.
T.J. Was Named Defensive Player Of The Year In 2021
Well, T.J. Watt, who has followed the family genetics and played amazing his first five seasons (like his brother) and hardly missed any time (like his brother) is 27 and about to turn 28 in three weeks — which is exactly the time his brother began to break down.
And here we are one game into the 2022 season and he’s going to likely be placed on injured reserve by Saturday while he rehabilitates his torn pectoral.
This does not predict, mind you, that T.J. is about to walk the same path that stole his older brother’s durability. But it does point out he’s been on the same path in other areas of performance and production so he’d have to depart that familiar path to remain consistently available to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers, you should know, were celebrating on Tuesday the news that T.J. won’t be out for the entire season.
“Let me say this, we’re probably in a lot better place than we were after the game, and that’s usually the case,” coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “That’s why I don’t always say too much after the game, even though there might be speculation out there.
“I can definitively say that T.J. won’t play this week, but I won’t make any commitments beyond that. We’re encouraged and we’ll just continue to look at the situation and gain opinions and do what’s appropriate.”
Tomlin Knows Replacements Will Not Be Good As Watt
The Steelers must find someone to fill T.J.’s spot the next 5-to-6 games.
“There’s going to be a cast of characters, obviously, to fill his role, Malik [Reed] and Jamir [Jones] being the lead candidates,” Tomlin said. “But when you lose a guy like him, it’s not about the guys that occupy his position of left outside linebacker. It’s about how we redistribute our responsibilities collectively to produce the collective outcome that we desire.”
Good luck with that. The truth is Tomlin admits there is no replacing T.J.
“Those guys are not going to be T.J.,” he said. “It’s not realistic to think that they’re going to be T.J. But we expect them to be varsity. We’re going to formulate a plan to redistribute responsibilities to lean on our strengths and to minimize our weaknesses, like we always do each and every week.”
That will be difficult unless there’s another pass-rush Watt available in the pipeline.
But here’s a suggestion: The Steelers would be smart to understand what happened to J.J. Watt both before and after he turned 28 years old. Because T.J. Watt will be there in a few weeks and so far the resemblance is uncanny.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero