By Jeremy Hritz
How many teams have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates? Not many. In fact, it’s a rarity that a team even has one candidate on their squad.
In 2008, the Steelers won their 6th Super Bowl, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in dramatic, heart-attack-inducing fashion, following big plays from many legendary Steelers, including James Harrison, who won Defensive Player of the Year. On the team with Harrison was Troy Polamalu, a once-in-a-lifetime talent who won that same award in 2010, and it is no wonder those defensive units were as strong and dominant as they were.
The 2021 Steelers are in a similar scenario, as both TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are both viable and legitimate candidates to win this prestigious award. More importantly, their incredible talents together unify a strong defensive unit and put them in position to pursue the title of the league’s best defense.
I spent much of this past week discussing the lack of depth on the defensive side of the football, and it is easy to get caught up in the pessimistic view and overlook the obvious. But despite the depth dearth, the starters on defense, highlighted by Watt and Fitzpatrick, make for a stellar unit. Players like Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Joe Haden, and Devon Bush showcase the pedigree of the defenders, and give many reasons for optimism in 2021.
Watt was close to DPOY last season, and many felt he was snubbed. Following Aaron Donald selection as the 2020 DPOY, Watt posted his frustration and newly-ignited drive to elevate his game even further (see photo). Fitzpatrick, while he didn’t have as great of a year as he did in 2019 when he was in contention for the award, was still successful, and heading into year 4 with 2 seasons with the Steelers under his belt, it may be his time to ascend to another level. While it sounds like a far-fetched storyline, the Steelers could have two players battling for the moniker achieved by Harrison and Polamalu.
While that hardware would be satisfying individually, I’m sure both Watt and Fitzpatrick would choose a Lombardi instead, and with the collaboration of their super powers, it gives the defense a chance to be championship caliber.
Right now, Watt is the third favorite to win the Award behind Donald and Myles Garrett, while Fitzpatrick is 14th on the list behind a host of other names. You can find the complete list HERE. While these are simply projections, it is validation of the argument that the Steelers have 2 elite caliber players on their team.
In a year of storylines centered on uncertainty, the possibility of an friendly inter-squad competition for Defensive Player of the Year is a fun one to keep an eye on. Here’s to it being a competition between these two Steelers studs, as that the outcome of that will be a high-caliber level of play on the defensive side of the football.