After a handful of trades in the top half of the first round where teams moved up to take quarterbacks, the first 30 picks were marked by a number of offensive players being taken and defensive players sliding. This left the Steelers in great position by the 30th pick in the draft where they selected linebacker TJ Watt from Wisconsin.
TJ Watt is a superb athlete that absolutely blew it up at the Combine. The Steelers have often said they want “guys who love playing football, not guys who love being football players.” TJ Watt is absolutely that. He is the younger brother of JJ Watt and is a football junkie. He will complete all the cliches that you love to see in a defensive player of “eating, sleeping, and breathing football.” It is no surprise that the Steelers love him after they sent a large contingent to his Pro Day. They say the basis for good scouting is being able to get good information from college coaches and staff. You have to believe the Steelers used their connections with former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst (who was Watt’s coach at Wisconsin) to their benefit in the scouting process.
Watt has the athletic profile to be an immediate impact player for the Steelers as well. As I noted in my Pass Rusher Learning Curve article, since 2000, there have been 42 double-digit sack seasons recorded by players in either the first or second year of their career. Of the 35 players that have recorded double-digit sacks in their first two seasons, only 8 entered the league under 250 pounds and only 3 were under 245. From a height perspective, only 6 of the 35 were shorter than 6’3″ with only two (Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil) listed below 6’2″. Only 6 of the 35 ran a 40-yard dash slower than 4.8 seconds (with only 2 above 4.9). Other numbers are harder to come by, especially for players that had an injury at the combine and did not participate in all of the drills. But it is worth noting that most players were above a 118-inch broad jump, faster than 4.4 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, and put up at least 20 reps on the bench press.
Watt’s measureables? 6’4″, 252 pounds, and a 4.68 40-yard dash. On top of that, he had a 128″ broad jump, ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.13 seconds and put up 21 reps on the bench press. He checks all the athletic boxes for an edge rusher. In fact, he ranks above the 90th percentile for linebackers in height, weight, hand size, broad jump, the 3-cone drill, and the 60-yard shuttle.
Also, Watt fit the metrics for a “Force Player” based on the work done by Justis Mosqueda. Watt was the 4th-ranked Edge Rusher in the 3 Sigma Athlete SPARQ rankings and tested in the 98th percentile in Relative Athletic Scores. This is a continuation of the Steelers trend of selecting highly athletic players in the draft. Specifically at EDGE rusher, there is reason to believe that exceptional athletes fare better than below-average athletes, regardless of college production. Jarvis Jones was a highly productive college player (28 sacks in 2 years) but had atrocious measurables and never panned out in the NFL. On the other hand, Bud Dupree was considered relatively raw and did not have a lot of production in college but tested through the roof athletically. Watt is much closer to Dupree than Jones and fits the mold of the type of athlete that has become a successful EDGE rusher in the NFL.
vs Michigan St
6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 pass defended
5 tackles, 1.5 sacks
6 tackles, 1.5 sacks