Devil’s Advocate: Immediate Impact For T.J. Watt

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Is T.J. Watt going to have a significant role in the outside linebacker rotation immediately?

The Steelers have used three picks in the first round on the outside linebacker position now in the past five drafts. One of them is starting, one of them just signed elsewhere in free agency after failing to catch on here, and the third is, of course, just beginning his career.

The third is T.J. Watt, and he has only been playing the position four two seasons, but he certainly looks to be a player with enormous potential. Yet they don’t have a starting job open, behind James Harrison and the other first-rounder still with the team, Bud Dupree.

When Dupree was drafted, he was getting a good number of snaps right off the bat. He even had a sack in each of his first two games, and four in the first half of the season, but he didn’t record another one that year.

Since, of course, he has continued to develop, and he recorded four and a half sacks in the final four games of the regular season when healthy. He also hardly came off the field, and Mike Tomlin sounded like he wants that to be the plan going forward.

So Watt isn’t going to have an opening on the left side, but Harrison isn’t going to be playing every down, even if he started to do that at the end of the year. He will get tired—that happened last year as well when he started logging full snaps.

There will be an opening for playing time. But will it go to Watt? Given that they gave it to Dupree, it would seem a reasonable enough assumption. He is the heir apparent, after all, and they will want to get him on the field.

But they are in a better position now than when they brought Dupree in, so he won’t have to play right away if he’s not ready. Anthony Chickillo spent about half of the last season starting, and he was the only outside linebacker in the league last year who played a significant amount of snaps without missing a tackle.

It’s certainly possible that Watt gets a good amount of playing time early, but it really hinges on his readiness. They have reserves like Chickillo and Arthur Moats who can absorb the snaps, so they don’t have to rush him.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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