This one felt like a no-brainer. Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner put together a list of the best draft decisions made by each time over the past five years. And it should be no surprise what the Steelers’ top choice was. Drafting Wisconsin OLB TJ Watt 30th overall in the 2017 draft.
Here’s what Renner wrote about the pick.
“The 2017 edge class was very similar to the 2021 class in that rankings were all over the map. But it was kind of reversed in that it had a ton of very productive guys but a lot of middling athletes. Derek Barnett, Charles Harris and Taco Charlton all fell into that bucket and went before Watt. Watt, however, had sneaky good production with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade in 2016 and was an exceptional all-around athlete.”
Watt was the last pass rusher to be taken in the first round behind those names Renner mentioned. He’s also had the best career of the group. In fact, the others have largely flamed out in the league. But Watt has turned into a MVP candidate, deserving of the award each of the last two seasons and arguably snubbed each time. Without any hint of homerism or exaggeration, he’s on a Hall of Fame track. Through his first four seasons, he’s recorded 49.5 sacks. Only a handful of players, most of whom ended up in Canton, have had more.
What makes Watt special is the fact he’s a complete player. More than just a pass rusher, he plays the run exceptionally well and is solid in coverage, though the Steelers have been smart about dropping him less over the past two seasons. In 2020, Watt led the league in tackles for loss, including a league-high 12 on run plays. The only other players with double-digit run TFLs were brother JJ Watt and Steelers’ ILB Vince Williams.
Watt was part of an incredible 2017 draft class. One of Colbert’s best. After taking him in the first, the Steelers selected WR JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round followed by Cam Sutton and James Conner in the third. All four of those guys turned into either starters or in Sutton’s case, a valuable sub-package piece who will be starting for someone in 2021.
Should PFF come out with a competing “worst draft decisions of the last five years” list, which I imagine they will because hey, it’s the offseason, Colbert taking Artie Burns in 2016 likely tops the list. Steelers’ fans know that story all too well. Pittsburgh was one pick away from drafting Houston CB William Jackson III. But the Bengals stole him and the Steelers settled for Burns.