The expectation is that when you draft a player in the first round of a draft, you are virtually inevitably going to be adding a player to your roster that is talented at the bare minimum, even if he doesn’t work into an immediate contributing role during his first season. The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to find three contributors on defense in their draft last year, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll have another starter right away.
If they do, Lance Zierlein doesn’t believe it will be T.J. Watt, the outside linebacker out of Wisconsin that the Steelers drafted in the first round, as the draft analyst and son of the former Steelers offensive line coach bearing the same surname included him on a list of five early-round draft picks he expects to be slow starters.
Skipping back to after the draft, Zierlein wrote about the Steelers selecting Watt that the team is “a pretty good fit for him”, but that he doesn’t think he is a great pass rusher. “He’s got some skills and is developing”, he wrote. “I think he’s going to end up being a much better player than he is right now”.
That post-draft description makes it no surprise that he would be included on the referenced list either, which also included the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick, the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore at 11, Charles Harris for the Dolphins at 22, and Taylor Moton, who was the last pick in the second round for the Panthers.
One the Steelers’ selection, Zierlein wrote that “Watt might have landed with the perfect team from a fit standpoint. He plays the game with a terrific motor and good physicality. He’s technically proficient off the edge”. It started out well before getting to the downside.
“With all of that said, I could see his rookie year becoming more of a redshirt season than a productive campaign”, he went on. “Watt should benefit from a year in the weight room to add muscle in preparation for his battles against NFL tackles. Watt is also an effort pass rusher who relies on a very good push-pull move to whip tackles”.
While his hand fighting has been a source of praise, Zierlein noted that such a move “is much tougher to pull off against an NFL tackle and I think his rookie year could become a feeling-out process for what will and won’t work. Without a big edge burst to get after the quarterback, his production could be a little light this season”.
Not that this should be much of a surprise to anybody who has regularly followed the Steelers. The team already has their two presumptive starting outside linebackers in James Harrison and Bud Dupree. Watt is likely to only get fairly limited work over the course of the season, barring injury, with an eye toward next season. That is part of the reason that they took the heir apparent to Harrison now rather than next year.