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Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt Looks Like an Early Frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Myles Garrett deservedly earned the most preseason hype, but with injury sidelining the Browns’ young star in Week 1, a division rival and fellow first-round draft pick stole the spotlight

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Entering the 2017 NFL campaign, one postseason honor seemed easy to pencil in: Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The no. 1 overall pick instantly became one of the most physically gifted players in the league, a 6-foot-5, 271-pound All-American who led the SEC in sacks as a sophomore in 2015 and racked up another 8.5 last year. This preseason, he looked every bit like the defensive anchor the Browns thought he could be.

He showed power:

He showed finesse:

And then, just before the season began, he suffered a high ankle sprain in practice, which will likely sideline him for four to six weeks. Now there’s an opening for the league’s most exciting rookie defender, and on Sunday the Browns got a front-row look at a contender for that honor: T.J. Watt, the Steelers’ first-round pick and the younger brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt. Watt wasn’t quite the world-beater that Garrett was in college, but his junior year with Wisconsin was a revelation, as he racked up 11.5 sacks, most in the Big Ten. In Cleveland on Sunday, J.J.’s younger brother picked up two sacks and six tackles to go along with something even more prized: an interception.

Don’t think too hard about where rookie Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer was going with that throw—just celebrate the turnover from an edge rusher who won’t often be 10 yards down the field to grab those kinds of opportunities. The Steelers didn’t look their sharpest against the Browns, but they pulled out a 21-18 win regardless—in no small part thanks to Watt’s standout debut. It may sound surprising, but T.J.’s performance was easily the most exciting one for the Watt family on Sunday, as J.J.’s much-anticipated return saw few highlights from him in a 29-7 Texans loss to the Jaguars.

Steelers fans have every reason to celebrate their rookie pass rusher’s performance. But watch out: When Cleveland next plays Pittsburgh in Week 17, it may be a chance for Browns fans—and Garrett—to return the favor.