T.J. Watt led defensive players in scoring in IDP scoring on the strength of his record-tying 22.5 sacks. Nearly half of his points in the IDP123 scoring framework came from sacks.
Can we expect a “regression,” in the same way fantasy analysts expect regressions from WRs and RBs who scored many of their points on touchdowns? Last December, PFF analyst Sam Monson pointed to his high rate of sacks-to-pressures and said, “That is a weird number that is not sustainable.”
Watt did sustain it for the rest of the season—finishing with 23 sacks on 67 pressures. (PFF doesn’t count half sacks; every sack, whether solo or assisted, counts as one in their numbers.) What if Watt is just very good at taking down quarterbacks? What if there is an art to converting pressures to sacks—making sure the QB doesn’t slip away?
Behind the Numbers
Watt has been good at it every year of his career. As a rookie in 2017, he pressured opposing quarterbacks 42 times, according to PFF, and came away with sacks eight times (19%). That was already above the league average PFF calculated of approximately 16%. Since then, Watt upped his pressure total, sack total, and conversion rate.
|Pressures||Sacks (PFF)||Sack %|
Since 2018, Watt has consistently sacked the passer more than 20% of the times he closed in.
Last season was a big jump, even by Watt’s lofty standards. But it was still not the highest sack rate in the league. Bears OLB Robert Quinn made 18 sacks on 47 pressures for a rate of 38.3%. Then-Panther Haason Reddick (who joined the Eagles this offseason) made 15 sacks on 44 pressures for a rate of 34.1%, nearly equal to Watt’s.
Every defender in the top 10 for sacks had an above-average pressure rate, and all but one had a pressure rate over 20%.
These are mostly elite pass rushers who have sustained it for multiple seasons. They didn’t get to the top of the sack leaderboard just by being lucky. Such high rates are sustainable for some of the elite. Trey Hendrickson, for example, has kept up a sack-to-pressure rate of over 20% for each of the past three years.
On the other hand, if you look at the ten edge rushers with the fewest sacks with over 300 snaps, this is what you see:
|M. Ingram III||51||5||9.8%|
Their conversion rates for sacks are below the league average, and four are in single digits. The Eagles’ Derek Barnett has graded in his 60’s and 50’s every year of his NFL career. Thirty-four-year-old Jerry Hughes left the Bills for the Texans after nine years in Buffalo. Most players on this list are consistent under-performers or aging veterans whose best days are behind them.
Watt is Built Different
It seems the ability to convert pressures to sacks is a skill. It’s a skill that is evident watching Watt’s game tape. The man bursts to the QB like a comet and anticipates where he will be. (See last season’s week 6 Steelers-Seahawks game in which Watt won the game in overtime.)
And it’s a skill he will continue to possess next season. While anyone’s sack numbers could fluctuate year to year, there is no reason to expect Watt won’t record 12-25 sacks again and contend for the spot of #1 IDP scorer.
We could also expect a similar or greater sack total from Watt in 2022 if he stays healthy. In 2021, he sat out two games and played limited snaps in three. If he averaged his pressure rate over an entire season, that is 76 pressures. Even if he “regresses” to his previous career-high of a 25% pressure-to-sack rate, that would mean 19 expected sacks.
T.J. Watt is going at #56.6 ADP in Sleeper IDP leagues. You have to pay a premium for him, but if your league scores six or more points for sacks, he’s scoring more than most offensive players being taken at that position.
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