As it turns out, players like T.J. Watt were built for the NFL Scouting Combine. And the league is banking on such players in the future in making the Combine into a primetime event with goal-oriented drills in the hopes of maximizing the profitability of an event that, frankly, was an afterthought and not even televised.
The germ of the Combine was driven not by the desire to watch large men run around in form-fitting leotards, but rather to obtain important medical information on players as they begin their professional careers. That still remains the most crucial element of the Combine, but it’s become so much more than that.
While the on-field testing is key, of course, though still weighted too strong, a crucial component of the Combine is the personal interviews. Unfortunately, there are fewer allowed per team starting this year, which means that teams will have to do a better job of making the most of each opportunity, because they can have a real effect.
It did for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Watt as he came out of Wisconsin in 2017. He recently recounted his own Combine experience and the impactful interview that he had with Mike Tomlin, and how the Steelers’ interview differed from the many others he participated in.
“With the Steelers I remember sitting in the room and I was in the front and they had four tables deep”, he said, earlier pointing out that some teams may have had only a handful of people in the room. Pittsburgh clearly send the house when they do these things.
“Coach Tomlin was the one conducting the interview which I really respected. A lot of teams the coach, GM and owner will sit in the back and observe instead of being the one asking the questions”, he added. “I remember that interview and that stuck out to me. After that interview I had a really good feeling and thought it could be a landing spot for me, especially after they came to my pro day”.
It’s safe to say that the Steelers liked what they had seen and heard of Watt over the course of the pre-draft process, as well as the in-season college scouting, of course. The fact that he is the younger brother of J.J. Watt didn’t hurt him any, either.
The team would obviously go on to draft him late in the 2017 NFL Draft. Since then, he has developed into one of the top edge defenders in the NFL. He finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2019 after earning Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro recognition with 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, four recoveries, and two interceptions.