It should come as no surprise that Pittsburgh Steelers star pass rusher T.J. Watt and do-everything defensive captain Cameron Heyward ranked inside the top 50 of Trench Warfare’s top 50 trench players rankings earlier this week from Brandon Thorn.
After all, Watt and Heyward are considered among the top 3 at their respective positions in the NFL.
What should come as a surprise though is where Thorn, who is the best trench play analyst out there, had Watt and Heyward ranked overall.
According to Thorn’s rankings, Watt — the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year — landed at No. 8 overall, while Heyward landed at No. 15 overall. Of course, that takes into account offensive linemen as well. However, Watt was the fourth edge off the board for Thorn, behind the likes of Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, Los Angeles’ Joey Bosa and San Francisco’s Nick Bosa.
“Watt combines elite explosiveness, a deep library of moves to draw from and relentless effort into warp play speed that wears on opponents over the course of a game,” Thorn writes regarding Watt’s ranking at No. 8 overall. “Watt won his first Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021, leading the NFL in sacks (22.5), and he leads all rushers over the last four seasons in sacks with 60 (second is Aaron Donald with 59). Watt is also tied for first with Joey Bosa over the last two seasons in pressure percentage at 16.2%.”
Despite all of those accolades that Thorn ripped off regarding Watt, it’s a bit stunning to see him ranked fourth overall behind Garrett and the Bosa brothers. That just doesn’t feel right at all, but Thorn puts in the work and studies the trenches much more than anyone else, so his rankings have some merit to them.
That said, Watt is a true game-wrecker. His stats blow all three of those guys ahead of him out of the water, which has to have some sort of weight to it when it comes to the discussion regarding the best edge defender in football.
As for Heyward, sitting at No. 15 overall he was the fourth defensive lineman to come off the board in Thorn’s rankings, behind the likes Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald, Kansas City’s Chris Jones and Washington’s Jonathan Allen.
“Heyward is a high-energy bulldozer who blends tact and nuance with sheer force to consistently impact games against the run and pass,” Thorn writes regarding Heyward’s ranking for Trench Warfare. “Over the last five seasons, Heyward ranks third overall in pressures behind only Aaron Donald and Cameron Jordan. Over the last two seasons, he ranks sixth overall and second among defensive tackles. Heyward is getting up there in age at 33 years old but hasn’t shown major signs of slowing down.”
Fifteenth overall in the NFL in the trenches isn’t a bad place to be, but it’s still startling to see Heyward behind the likes of Allen and Jones overall.
At 33 years old, Heyward is getting better and better with age, becoming a true dominant force in the middle of the Steelers’ defense. As Thron writes, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down, which is fantastic new for the black and gold.
In the end, the rankings are mostly meaningless, but it is interesting to see how a guy as well-respected and renowned as Thorn sees the position rankings, especially in the trenches.