The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2017 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Nevertheless, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: T.J. Watt
Position: Outside Linebacker
Experience: 1 Year
The very rare wall-to-wall rookie defensive starter, T.J. Watt had a debut season worth getting excited about as the team’s first-round draft pick in 2017 at the outside linebacker position. Replacing the aging veteran James Harrison, who was held out of most offseason activities, Watt’s rapid development and growth enabled the Steelers to use him as a full-time player, rarely spelled throughout the season.
In fact, excluding the game in which he was injured in week two, and the subsequent game that he missed because of it, there were only a couple of games throughout the season in which he was off the field than more than 10 or so snaps, and he frequently only came off for five or fewer snaps, seeing over 82 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in total even as he missed all but 20 of 134 snaps over that two-game span.
As was the case with much of the defense, unfortunately, his last impression during the postseason was not his best, and does help to color opinions of his rookie season. In part due to that game, many contest that he hit a rookie wall, though I believe his games against the Ravens and Browns over the final four weeks of the regular season were among his best.
It shouldn’t be surprising that one issue we saw with Watt in year one was consistency. That is basically a problem that you are going to see out of every rookie just because they are being asked to do new things in a new league against a new level of competition all while adjusting to a new life.
At his best, however, the youngest Watt brother clearly displayed the capability of being not just a complete outside linebacker, but potentially a difference-maker. He is capable of manufacturing pressure in the passing game with his athleticism and hand usage while generating run stops as well, but he also gets stuck in both facets of the game at times.
I struggle to process how anybody cannot be optimistic about Watt based on what he showed during his rookie year. He showed that he can bend the arc, that he has advanced usage of his hands, and that he has a repertoire of pass-rushing moves, even if they need to be refined. He showed that he knows how to hold the edge, how to drop into coverage, and how to have an impact. He recorded the second-most sacks by a rookie in team history. His 2017 season was already a ‘solid’ year by a veteran’s standards, but he is just getting started.