From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#42 T.J. Watt / EDGE / Wisconsin 6’5 252 lbs
– Always gives his all, high motor player
– High athleticism
– Great size – 11’ inch hands & 33 1/8” inch arms
– Swim/ rip move fueled by long arms
– Quickness off the snap
– Silenced size questions by adding weight for NFL Combine
– Shows comfortability with dropping into flat
– Able to disengage from blockers
– Gets hands up in passing lanes
– Only one year of success at Wisconsin
– Very raw, transitioned to defense just two years ago
– Pass rush move set needs polish and a counter move
– Bend around the edge not bad but could use some tuning
– Still gets bullied at times by bigger offensive linemen
– Carries injury concerns related to knee
– 2016: 38 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT
– Season high 2.5 sacks vs Michigan State
– Started career as tight end before transferring to defense in 2015
– First team All Big Ten Selection in 2016
– Second team All American in 2016
– Missed all of 2014 and Spring of 2015 with knee injury
If players were graded by just numbers alone, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt would be an A-plus prospect. Watt weighed in this weekend at 6’5”, 252 lbs and recorded a 37” vertical and a 10’8” broad jump, an incredible showing for an edge rusher. Even more impressive than Watt’s NFL Combine numbers are his on-field numbers, finishing with 11.5 sacks last season, just his second season as a member of the defense.
Seeing as Watt transitioned from tight end to edge rusher in 2015, he is still very raw at the position but has the tools to make a name for himself. Watt’s biggest ally are his 33’ 1/8” arms, which he uses to overmatch offensive linemen with great success.
Put an offensive lineman on the ground and people will take notice, but to put an offensive lineman on the ground with just the use of your hands like Watt does above is just incredible. Ripping under the shoulder of the Michigan State left tackle, Watt notches the first sack of the two and a half he would record on the day, a career high.
Watt’s hand work as it relates to his rip move is his most impressive asset but also gives Watt the ability to do much more. Watch how Watt uses his freakishly long arms to bend around the tackle and get to the quarterback on the play below.
Due to his inexperience at the position, Watt may not have the tightest route to the quarterback when it comes to his bend but he more than makes up for it with his arm length. Watch Watt’s reach to grab Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, though he does not finish the play, it is still a great showing of his natural athleticism.
Watt also has the flexibility to play and rush from a variety of positions across the defensive line. Watt can rush from not only the left or right outside linebacker spot but also shows ability to rush from the inside.
Coming out of a cannon through the A gap, Watt easily overpowers the Western Michigan running back Fabian Washington for his final sack of his college career. Being able to rush in a variety of ways, including stunts leaves Watt as a key creative piece for a 3-4 defense.
Obviously being a player with only two years of experience on defense, Watt does come with his fair share of limitations, mainly with lacking a counter move. It is when Watt’s initial hand work is unsuccessful that the Wisconsin product finds himself negated and a non-factor on plays.
A troubling sight to see as Watt is negated entirely by Western Michigan’s tight end Donnie Ernsberger. Watt gives a few attempts to get leverage back on his side to break free from Ernsberger but is unsuccessful both times. Plays like the one above are a big reason why many suggested that Watt add weight to his frame to increase his power and it seems that Watt has taken the suggestion seriously, showing up to the combine at 252-pounds – nine pounds more than he weighed during his final year at Wisconsin.
As a potential member of a 3-4 defense, Watt will be needed to do more than just rush the passer, specifically he will be needed to drop into coverage and play the run. After watching various tape on Watt, I am confident he will be able to do both as well as anyone else at his position. Though Watt’s run defense is still a tad raw, there are some positive taking points that point to inexperience rather than an inability.
Here against Michigan, Watt is at the left outside linebacker position and will be facing a run directed to his side. Watt holds the edge as Michigan’s fullback Henry Poggi attempts to blow him up at the line. But not only does Watt set the edge, he blows up the play up for a loss. Watt stacks and sheds his blocker on route to stopping the play in the backfield. With more reps at run defense, Watt could become a dominant run stuffer at the next level.
With a dominant Combine showing to back up his on-field production, Watt has seen his draft stock rise from “J.J. Watt’s younger brother” to legitimate pass rusher with great upside. Watt’s great length, athleticism and raw talent leaves the notion that Watt has yet to scratch the surface on his potential. With some polish Watt can become one of the most highly productive pass rushers from this year’s deep class. Look for Watt to go very early in the second round, though a late first round selection would not be surprising either.
Projection: Late Day One to Early Day Two
Games Watched: vs LSU, vs Western Michigan, vs Michigan, vs Michigan State, vs Ohio State, vs Nebraska