2023 Defensive Player of the Year Odds & Pick: Watt Is the Deal with T.J.?

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T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after sacking Tyler Huntley #2 of the Baltimore Ravens. Rob Carr/Getty Images/AFP

NFL Pick: T.J. Watt Defensive Player of the Year 2023 +600 at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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T.J. Watt Defensive Player of the Year 2023 +600
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The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award has a familiar name as the front-runner to win it in 2023. T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers won the award in 2021, and he is the odds-on favorite (+650 at top US sportsbook BetOnline) to win his second in 2023.

Even if he wins another, T.J. will still trail his brother J.J., who won the award 3 times (2012, 2014, and 2015). In between the Watt brothers, Aaron Donald won the award 3 times (2017, 2018, and 2020) for the Rams. Donald (+2000) is only tied for the 7th-highest betting odds in 2023 as the Rams have fallen off on defense.

Competing with Watt are some household names like Micah Parsons (+650), Myles Garrett (+750), and last year’s winner, Nick Bosa (+900).

We look at the DPOY race, including what player profile attracts voters, if Watt is the best choice, and some longshot options to consider.

What Stands Out for Defensive Player of the Year Winners?

Introduced in 1971 by the Associated Press, the DPOY award in the NFL has arguably been the least creative in the voting process. While some players have come out of left field to win it like Doug Betters (1983 Dolphins), Dana Stubblefield (1997 49ers), and Stephon Gilmore (2019 Patriots), voters are fond of picking elite defenders on elite defenses.

Since offense is more consistent than defense in the NFL, you might think more players would randomly earn their way into a DPOY award, but that has not been the case for over 50 years. In addition to choosing eight multi-time winners, voters will often choose defenders from the same team over a multi-year period.

For example, the Steelers won DPOY in 4-of-5 years in 1972-76 with Joe Green (twice), Mel Blount, and Jack Lambert each winning the award. More recently, the Steelers won the award in 2008 (James Harrison) and 2010 (Troy Polamalu). That was a period when the Baltimore Ravens won the award four times with Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003), Ed Reed (2004), and Terrell Suggs (2011).

Do you have to play on the best defense to win the award? Absolutely not. No one on the 2009 Jets, 2013 Seahawks, 2015 Broncos, 2017 Jaguars, or 2018 Bears won the award. But it helps immensely to play on a top-10 defense, and it also helps to be on a winning team that makes the playoffs:

  • Since 2002, 18-of-21 DPOY winners (85.7%) were on a playoff team.
  • Since 2002, 20-of-21 DPOY winners (95.2%) played for a team with a winning record that year.
  • Since 1988, 30-of-35 DPOY winners (85.7%) were on a playoff team.
  • Since 1988, 32-of-35 DPOY winners (91.4%) played for a team with a winning record that year.

Non-Winning Teams

In the 32-team era, only Jason Taylor (2006 Dolphins) played for a losing team with a 6-10 record, but that Miami defense was one of the best in the league that year. It is essentially impossible to play for a defense ranked worse than 20th and win DPOY.

Can a player win DPOY on a non-winning team with a below-average defense overall? Michael Strahan basically did that for the 2001 Giants (7-9 and No. 16 in points allowed) when he broke the then-sack record with 22.5 sacks, which gave him a ton of buzz. He edged out Brian Urlacher, 27-20, in the DPOY voting that year. But Strahan is the only such example in the salary cap era.

Finally, we should consider positional value. This is the breakdown of the 52 DPOY winners by position since 1971:

  • 17 linebackers
  • 14 defensive ends
  • 10 defensive tackles
  • 6 corners
  • 5 safeties

Edge rushers absolutely have a huge advantage over defensive backs. Sacks (and pressures) are more consistent and rate higher than interceptions, a stat no one really excels in these days given the short-passing nature of the NFL.

Top Contenders

If you are an edge rusher on a team expected to win games this season, then you have an inherent advantage to win DPOY. Sure enough, the top 4 players in the odds all qualify for this.

T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Favorite (+600 at BetOnline)

After losing a 27-20 vote to Aaron Donald in 2020 for DPOY, T.J. Watt came back with 22.5 sacks in just 15 games to win the award in 2021, earning 42-of-50 votes. Watt was favored to repeat in 2022, but he was injured during a Week 1 win over the Bengals where he was absolutely dominant. The Steelers went 1-6 in the games Watt missed, then finished 7-2 in the games he returned for.

This helps with the narrative that Watt is the most valuable defensive player in the league, but it would be wrong to say he was as dominant as usual upon his return from injury. In those last 9 games, Watt had 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and just 12 pressures (1.33 per game). Watt averaged 3.5 pressures per game in 2021 according to Pro Football Reference.

T.J.’s brother, J.J., started to have a lot of nagging injuries in his age-27 season. T.J. was 28 last year, so hopefully he is not following in his brother’s footsteps in the health department. When healthy, he absolutely has the talent to dominate and help the Steelers to a non-losing record for the 20th year in a row.

The Steelers also play the 49ers (Nick Bosa) and Browns (Myles Garrett) in the first two games, so if Watt can be the defensive star in both matchups over his competitors, then he could control the narrative early with a great start.

Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys: Last Year’s Runner-Up (+650 at BetOnline)

For a large chunk of 2022, Micah Parsons was favored to win DPOY. T.J. Watt was injured, the Browns were losing for Myles Garrett, and the Dallas defense was thriving again. But in the end, Parsons finished 2nd in voting despite not getting a single first-place vote as Nick Bosa got 46-of-50 there.

The 49ers finished strong while the Cowboys blew some big second-half leads against the Jaguars and Packers, and they gave up a 350-yard passing game to Gardner Minshew on Christmas Eve and had to win a shootout.

Parsons had 12 sacks in 11 games, but he finished with 1.5 sacks in the last 6 games. He should still be a Pro Bowler this year, but with the Cowboys likely to finally face some turnover regression after leading the league the last two years, this might not be the high sack, high forced fumble type of season he needs for DPOY.

Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns: The Loser’s Curse (+750 at BetOnline)

Thanks to the new ranked voting method last year, Myles Garrett received his first-ever DPOY votes, finishing a distant 5th in the race. Garrett has been considered a favorite every preseason for the last few years, but he has not come close to topping the likes of T.J. Watt, Donald, or Bosa.

A problem is the Browns continue to be a losing team in Garrett’s tenure, only making the playoffs in that 2020 season. Garrett has had 16 sacks in back-to-back years, but the Browns were not a top-10 defense in either season.

Deshaun Watson is expected to change things for Cleveland, but if last year is any indication, he is not ready to be a franchise quarterback again. The Browns also have the problem of being the third or fourth-best team in the AFC North, an elite division. It does not seem likely that Garrett will rise above his situation to win this award.

Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers: The Reigning DPOY (+900 at BetOnline)

Getting +900 odds on a Bosa repeat sounds pretty decent when you consider that the 49ers should remain an elite defense and Super Bowl favorite this season.

Five of the last 11 DPOY winners led the league in sacks, including Bosa (18.5) last year. Only 3 players since the 1970 merger have led the league in sacks in back-to-back years: Mark Gastineau (1983-84), Reggie White (1987-88), and T.J. Watt (2020-21).

The voters never went for Gastineau, who did it on 7-9 teams for the Jets. They gave it to White in 1987 when he had 21 sacks but not a year later when his total dropped to 18. They gave it to Watt for his much better season in 2021 as he improved on his total from 15 to 22.5.

If Bosa, who will have a new defensive coordinator (Steve Wilks) this year, takes a step back and does not improve on his 18.5 sacks, voters may find some fatigue with him and look elsewhere.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, New York Jets: No Sauce Love? (+1400 at BetOnline)

Sauce Gardner has the highest odds for any defensive back, and a DPOY award after winning Defensive Rookie of the Year would be an incredible start to his career. But let’s reason this one out first.

If Aaron Rodgers works out as planned for the Jets, the team will win more games after having more leads and playing from ahead. Gardner did not build his reputation as a rookie by getting interceptions as he only had 2 of them. He built it by the perception of shutting receivers down, only allowing 1 touchdown and 452 yards in pass coverage all season according to Pro Football Reference.

If the Jets are winning games, they will face more pass attempts as teams play from behind to catch up. They will throw more at Gardner, and while he could get more interceptions, those do not move the needle much on DPOY. Only 3 players since 1985 have led the league in interceptions and won DPOY. Getting a handful while boasting great coverage stats would be a big boost, but it is just as likely that Gardner gives up some more touchdowns and yardage chunks in playing with leads than he did in 2022.

Even Darrelle Revis, who shut down countless receivers for an incredible 2009 Jets defense, lost DPOY to Charles Woodson, who led the league in picks that year. Woodson beat Revis 28-14 in votes.

Unless you think the top pass rushers are going to disappoint this year and there is no way the NFL will reward someone like Maxx Crosby for leading the league in sacks on a 7-10 Vegas team, then Gardner is probably not a winning bet to make.

The Longshots

Here are some quick thoughts on other longshots (+1600 or higher at BetOnline) for DPOY.

Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders (+1600 at BetOnline)

Again, the potential losing record and lack of playoffs in a tough division are stacking the odds against Crosby. Also, for the Raiders to truly get better this year, Chandler Jones needs to produce more, which could cut into Crosby’s production.

Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers (+2000 at BetOnline)

He impressed with a career-high 12.5 sacks last season, but unless the Panthers are going to surprise some people, this is not likely to produce a playoff season or a better season than Watt, Bosa, or Parsons. If you believe this much in Carolina, then you could consider a parlay of Burns for DPOY and Bryce Young for Offensive Rookie of the Year or Frank Reich for Coach of the Year.

Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles (+2500 at BetOnline)

He was an incredible addition to the Eagles last year with 16 sacks, his most yet, and his third season in a row with at least 11 sacks. He also led the league with 5 forced fumbles and was a terror in the playoffs, injuring Brock Purdy in the NFC Championship Game with a quick pass rush.

The problem here is regression in following up a career season for a defense that had 70 sacks and added two first-round talents to the pass rush rotation, and voters still may not be sold on Reddick as a household name like some of his competitors.

Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions (+3300 at BetOnline)

Overshadowed a bit by Sauce Gardner winning DROY, Aidan Hutchinson was the best pass rusher in last year’s draft class with 9.5 sacks and 30 pressures. Remember, most of the DPOY winners make the playoffs, and the Lions are favored to do so this year after finishing 9-8 last season.

If the Lions take that next step and make the playoffs, it will be thanks to an improved defense, led by Hutchinson. This is a sneaky good value betting pick to make in the DPOY field as Hutchinson is in a great position to have a breakout year.

Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers (+4000 at BetOnline)

The Watt brothers do not have a monopoly on keeping awards in the family. Joey Bosa is a former Defensive Rookie of the Year, and maybe he can follow in his younger brother Nick’s footsteps and win this award. Bosa was injured in 2022 and only managed to play most of the snaps in 2 games before returning late in the season to play sparingly.

When healthy, Bosa is routinely good for 40-plus pressures and double-digit sacks. Maybe a career year that finally leads to the first good defense for Justin Herbert in a repeat playoff performance can get this Bosa the nod for DPOY.


T.J. Watt is a deserving favorite, but he is not without red flags in this race. That is why it would be wise to spread the wealth on other options, including longshots in Aidan Hutchinson and Joey Bosa.

As much as I would like to fade Sauce Gardner, he does offer something different from the pack in the secondary. He may not get a ton of interceptions, but he led the league with 20 passes defended as a rookie, so he can get his hand on the ball. If the Jets are as huge a story in 2023 as they could be, then he will have a shot to win this thing.

But Watt winning another would be in line with a voting sect that loves a repeat winner from an elite player for this award.

NFL Pick: T.J. Watt Defensive Player of the Year 2023 +600 at BetOnline

*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.