It's been 35 years since a defensive player took home an NFL MVP award -- Lawrence Taylor in 1986 -- and it's happened only twice since the award was introduced in 1957. Much like college football's Heisman Trophy, it's an honor almost exclusively reserved for quarterbacks and running backs.
But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has never garnered an MVP vote himself despite a stellar career, is stumping for teammate T.J. Watt to get some MVP love for his Taylor-like defensive impact.
"I don't know who else is Defensive Player of the Year other than that guy. I'm sure there are other candidates that I just don't know. But he should absolutely get MVP votes as well because that's what kind of player he is," Roethlisberger said Tuesday.
Watt notched a career-high 3.5 sacks on Sunday, corralling the elusive Lamar Jackson as the Steelers picked up a hard-earned must-win game to improve to 6-5-1. He leads the NFL with 16 sacks – two more than Cleveland Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett -- and is on a pace to challenge Michael Strahan's 20-year-old record of 22.5. In his MVP season of 1986, Taylor notched 20.5, which is tied for seventh all-time. Remarkably enough, Watt's 16 sacks have come in just 10 games, as he missed Week 3 with a groin injury, and Week 11 with hip and knee ailments. He's also recorded four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 26 quarterback hits. The season has been a constant affirmation of the $112 million contract extension he received just before the season opener. And lest we forget, Roethlisberger publicly pushed for Watt to get that bank-breaker deal.
"I think T.J. is like seriously one of the best players I've played against, and I've played against some really good defensive guys. He truly is a special player. I'm glad I've never been sacked by him," Roethlisberger added. "He is a game-changer and a game-wrecker. I've been a part of guys like that Troy Polamalu, who can change a football game. It doesn't happen on defense that often. To be a literal game-changer on defense is something completely special. He should be recognized more than just [Defensive Player of the Year]."
DPOY honors this year would be Watt's first; his brother, J.J., has won it three times. The Rams' Aaron Donald beat out T.J. Watt for the Defensive Player of the Year Award last year, by a vote of 27-20.
He's well on his way to notching his first.
But for Roethlisberger, MVP votes for Watt should be in play, as well.