The Pittsburgh Steelers targeted Derek Watt in free agency in 2019 to bring him in for special teams, after losing a number of high-profile special teams talents such as Tyler Matakevich over the previous two offseasons. That is where he has made his mark, albeit without many opportunities elsewhere—not by his choice.
The seventh-year veteran fullback is hoping to see more playing time on offense this season, in the second year of Matt Canada’s offense and the first in the post-Roethlisberger era. In particular, though, he would love the opportunity to get out in front of the team’s Pro Bowl running back, Najee Harris.
“Blocking for him, he can definitely make you look good”, he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review during OTAs recently. “He makes a lot of things look good. He’s a great running back. To be out there, to be able to lead the way for him, is big”.
Watt played all of 86 offensive snaps for the Steelers last season, and only 69 of those snaps were as a run blocker. He did fare reasonably well in that department, and did better as the season wore along, so perhaps that is something the coaches will have seen on tape.
Given the changes taking place on the offensive side of the ball this year, it is reasonable to believe that we could see more from the running game in 2022, and even more 12 and 21 and even 22 personnel. The Steelers only have two wide receivers who are experienced in their system at this point who would be likely to be on the field over players at other skill positions.
More importantly, they don’t have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback anymore, who was throwing the ball more frequently than the vast majority of the league. Kenny Pickett is a rookie, and Mitch Trubisky was rarely a high-volume passer.
With the upgrades along the offensive line through the signings of James Daniels of Mason Cole, and the natural growth and development of the tight end position with Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry continuing to mature into their roles, it would be surprising if there wasn’t healthy run-pass balance this year. Last season, they threw the ball about 60 percent of the time, ranking fourth in pass attempts and 28 in rushing attempts.
Of course, part of that was because they were often not able to run the ball well. That started to improve late in the year, and it should certainly be better this year. So the better they are able to run the ball, the more likely they are to actually run the ball this year—and the more likely Watt will be able to block for Harris.