Film Room: DL Armon Watts Brings Athleticism And Pass Rush To Steelers Defensive Line

Last night, it was reported by his agent that DL Armon Watts is signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the team continues to beef up the trenches on both sides of the football. Watts is 26 years old and has appeared in 57 career games, making 22 starts. During that time, Watts has made 125 total tackles, seven for loss, and 15 quarterback hits, eight sacks, three forced fumbles, and a pass breakup. As Dave Bryan speculated on Twitter last night, the contract for Armon Watts could be one-year, $1.08M on a vet benefit deal with a cap charge of just $940K. That suggests that Pittsburgh used minimal or no cap space to sign him.

Watts was waived by the Vikings on August 30 last season and signed with the Bears a week later. What exactly are the Steelers getting in Watts? Let’s find out.

Run Defense

While with the Vikings, Watts played as one of their two interior DTs in a 4-3 front while mixing in on occasion head up on the center of in the A-gap. Last season with the Bears, most of Watts’ snaps came on first and second downs and with him lined up more on the interior between the guards as a base nose tackle or 1-tech.

What sticks out from Watts’ tape is his athleticism relative to his size. Watts is listed at 6’5, 307lb with 33 3/8-inch arms but moves extremely well for his size. He has a quick first step and does a good job shooting gaps and crossing the face of guards and centers. Watch this rep here against the 49ers last season. Watts wins inside across the RG with the slap/rip and manages to make the tackle on the runner at the LOS.

Another aspect of Watts’ game that sticks out on tape is his lateral movement skills relative to his size. He can naturally flow down the LOS on outside runs, fighting pressure to at least disrupt the runner’s path, if not get in on the tackle. Watch Watts on the reps below. The first clip shows Watts working down the LOS, then counter back inside and attempt to make the tackle, wrapping up Brian Robinson by the legs. In the second clip against the Jets, watch Watts step inside initially on the snap, but then work back outside as he fights pressure against the RG, working laterally down the line to make the stop on the runner.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Watts as a run defender. He tends to struggle with his pad level as he likes to pop straight up on the snap, causing him to lunge forward and lose his balance. Here is a good example against New York. Watts lines up at the nose tackle outside shade of the center and shoots himself into the center on the snap. Leaning forward into the block with no base as the center gets underneath Watts and chucks him to the side as he attempts to flow down the LOS.

Pass Rush

As mentioned earlier, Watts is a disruptive player given his size. He plays with a hot motor when rushing the passer and shows refined hand use, quickly disengaging from blocks in his pursuit of the QB. Here is a series of clips of Watts working as a pass rusher with Minnesota in 2021 against the 49ers. He uses finesse to swipe down opposing OL’s hands as well as power to get inside and bull rush blockers into the lap of the QB.

While Watts has eight sacks since being drafted in the sixth round in 2019, he is more disruptive than productive as a pass rusher. There are plenty of plays where he flashes but just can’t get home in time. Watch this rep against Washington. Watts swims over the RG into the pocket, forcing the throw way by Carson Wentz. In the second clip against the Jets, watch Watts rush from the nose tackle spot, spinning off the block by fellow new Steeler Nate Herbig to get to the QB. Watts gets the pressure but isn’t able to get home. The passer completes it to Garrett Wilson, who takes it to the house.

Watts has some legit pass-rush juice and excels when allowed to rush from a wider alignment compared to head up on the center. Watch this rep against Ben Powers, who just inked a lucrative contract with the Broncos, He gets Powers with the long arm on his outside shoulder as he clears the block and flattens around the corner to bury Lamar Jackson in the backfield for the sack.

Here is Watts’ sack from last season with Chicago after lining up in the B-gap inside shade of the LT. On the snap, Watts uses the two-hand swipe to clear the block of the LG. He gets his hands into the center, whom he meets immediately after, violently driving back into the pocket as he disengages the block and wraps up the QB for the sack.

When Watts can’t get home on his rush, he does make a concerted effort to try and knock down passes near the LOS. Watch this pass deflection Watts gets for Minnesota against Seattle. From the nose tackle position, as he bull rushes the center, he sees Russell Wilson get ready to throw. He puts his arm up in the passing lane to deflect the ball.



Armon Watts is a physically gifted defensive lineman who can wear multiple hats along the defensive front. Most of his work came as a base nose tackle or 1-tech last season in Chicago. But his size, athleticism, and pass-rush juice make him a capable defender at the 3-technique/4i in Pittsburgh’s defense. Watts presents an immediate upgrade over Breiden Fehoko, who doesn’t provide much pass rush upside, and gives Pittsburgh a more athletic option in the middle of the defensive line who can work laterally down the LOS.

He needs to play with better pad level and less forward lean, but Pittsburgh appears to be adding multiple bodies to the DL room that can mix in with each other at NT, including Fehoko and Montravius Adams, and play in different packages/situations. Watts should be able to factor in as one of Pittsburgh’s base 3-4 DEs in sub packages as well. He gives them a defender with more pass-rush juice than Isaiahh Loudermilk behind Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi who can rotate in and keep the starters fresh.

The addition of Watts won’t keep Pittsburgh from drafting another defensive lineman in the coming weeks. It does lessen the need of selecting a nose tackle-type with one of their first couple picks. Watts gives Pittsburgh the versatility to play multiple positions as well as pass rush upside that it sorely needs in a depth/rotational option.

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