The Pittsburgh Steelers hit a home run in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the selection of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who has advanced his resume every season. He had a strong rookie year, made the Pro Bowl in year two, then made first-team All-Pro last year. in 2020, he is on the cusp of possibly earning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, heading into the finale leading the league in sacks, hits, and tackles for loss.
The see how he has developed from his rookie year in 2017 to the dominant player that he has become now is both remarkable and unsurprising. It’s important to remember that he came into the league pretty inexperienced, starting out as a tight end before switching to the defensive side of the ball in college, with only a year or two of meaningful play under his belt there.
Nevertheless, he never doubted that he would make the transition successfully, because he knows what he’s capable of and he knows how hard he is willing to work in dedicating himself to his craft. Four years on, the proof is in the pudding.
“I’ve always had supreme confidence in myself”, he told reporters on Thursday. “I’ve always had confidence in the coaching staff here, the scheme, the players. When you’re surrounded by such great talent, it’s hard to hold up your end. I just wanted to work as hard as I could to not let the guys down that are around me, the supporting cast. I feel like I have a lot more to do still, and I feel like I have a lot more room to grow”.
With two sacks his last time out, Watt gave himself 15 for the season, currently the most in the NFL by a sack and a half. It is just the third time in franchise history that any player has finished a season with 15 or more sacks, tied with Mike Merriweather for second most and one behind James Harrison for the record.
He has also continued to show that he has an all-around game, registering a couple dozen tackles for loss, including more than a dozen against the run. He has seven passes defensed, including an interception coming back in week one.
Basically, there isn’t anything that he can’t do relative to his position. He is turning himself into one of the prototypes of the NFL, even though he isn’t necessarily particularly big for an edge defender. Yet he’s never really had an issue holding his own.