I know. I’m stupid, I’m a hater, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Blah, blah, blah.
T.J. Watt, the youngest of the Watt brothers, generated quite the amount of hype for himself in his only year as a starter for the Wisconsin Badgers. He led the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles to go with a pick 6. Paired with Vince Biegel, the Badgers featured one of the most dynamic pass rushing duos in the country, much less the Big Ten.
After such a season, Watt decided to capitalize on his momentum and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. A fourth year junior, Watt has the name, production at a big school, and “potential” due to his raw physical traits to garner some major attention from NFL clubs.
However, I am here to tell you this: The Green Bay Packers SHOULD NOT draft him in the 1st round. I understand the recency bias and the allegiance to the almighty Wisconsin Badgers is strong, and that seemingly every Packer/Badger fan feels like their guys will be awesome at the next level. However, this is not one of those cases (at least not in the 1st). Despite his production at UW this past season, Watt is farther away from consistently producing at the NFL level than most Packer/Badger fans would like to believe.
Before anyone barrages me with foreign objects and insults for having such a stupid opinion, let me put you at ease by pointing out some of Watt’s strengths and show that you’re feelings about Watt aren’t completely unfounded.
For starters, Watt has a lot to work with. He’s all of 6’5” 245. He’s got long arms and a frame that’s capable of adding mass. However, at this point, he’s pretty lean in his build. Because of this, he’s unable to defend the run and set the edge in conventional manners on a consistent basis. Take this play for example.
Early against LSU, Watt made his first splash play of the season. He does a nice job of knifing inside of a couple LSU pulling blockers, and stopped Leonard Fournette for a loss. While on the surface you say, “Wow, that was a really nice play by Watt,” from an evaluation standpoint, you look at that and say, “How didn’t LSU get a first down there?” You also say, “If Watt doesn’t get Fournette there, he’s probably getting 15 yards.” Watt gave up contain on this play to penetrate inside.
Watt excels at calculated risks. Watt is a smart player, and knows that he’s not functionally strong enough to hold up at the point of attack often, so he takes intelligent risks that offer little consequence if he doesn’t make the play. However, in the NFL, this doesn’t fly; the opposing players are simply too good, and if you’re not disciplined, they’ll make you pay.
Watt is also an effective pass rusher, as he did have 11.5 sacks this past season. In this play he beats the Michigan State left tackle for a sack.
Watt displays some nice lower body flexibility here, as well as the ability to efficiently use his hands to shed an offensive lineman and get to the quarterback. However, most NFL offensive tackles won’t be this porous.
So you’re all probably thinking: “Okay, so you’re telling me he can play against the run and rush the passer and he’s produced against the best competition in the country and he’s long and athletic. You’re an idiot for saying the Packers shouldn’t take him in the first round.”
Hear me out.
Areas of Improvement
Okay so first off, the Packers run a similar defensive scheme as the Badgers, so Watt hypothetically should have a shorter learning curve, right? Well, kind of.
In the Packers defensive scheme, Watt would likely be the weak side outside linebacker. This means he’d be outside a “nub” or offensive tackle without a tight end.
While I understand this is a small sample size, here is Watt against LSU, the play before he made that tackle for loss on Fournette.
This is something Watt would routinely be asked to do in the NFL. He has contain responsibilities on this play. Watt gets driven 3 yards off of the line of scrimmage, and Jack Cichy occupies the fullback. Luckily a sophomore former walk on was able to scrape over the top of the play to stop Fournette. This was Watt’s edge, and it was blown wide open.
So okay, maybe he’d play the strong side. I don’t believe Watt is a premier athlete at the NFL level, certainly not a knock on him, but he’s not the twitchiest of athletes. So maybe an NFL team puts him at strong side outside linebacker. Here’s what happened vs LSU against a double team from the right tackle and tight end and draft prospect Colin Jeter.
This... isn’t very good. Watt doesn’t have contain here, safety Leo Musso does. But because Watt gets driven backwards at the snap into Musso’s vision, he gets caught up in the traffic, and Fournette is rumbling downfield.
Watt was generally a solid run defender for Wisconsin, so I don’t mean to beat up on him, but he’s got to add considerable size and lower body strength before he can consistently set the edge in an NFL manner, unlike the more unconventional manner he did so at Wisconsin.
Also, in the Packers defense, as we’ve all seen, linebackers are asked to drop into coverage at times. While I understand Watt’s strength isn’t in this area of his game, the prospect of him covering NFL skill players frightens me after seeing this in the B1G championship game:
Again, I understand Saquon Barkley is an elite collegiate runner, but the NFL is full of elite athletes, and in the Packers’ scheme, the outside linebackers are at times asked to cover.
I do think that Watt’s pass rushing skills will translate to the NFL, but he likely won’t be as prolific in the NFL. I think he can settle in as a 4-6 sack per year guy in the NFL, which there is certainly a place for. In his four games against premiere collegiate teams (LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State) he had 2 of his 11.5 sacks.
Granted, it will be interesting to see how he tests in Indianapolis. I just don’t think that Watt is quite where he needs to be to immediately contribute at the NFL level how he’ll need to be asked to. A lot of his projection is weird, because a lot of the ways he won at the college level are only winnable at the college level. He’s been coached well, but there will be some adjustment to the NFL style of game for Watt.
I really hope y’all don’t take this as a T.J. Watt hate piece from me. I’m a Badger fan, too. I want all Badger players to succeed in the NFL (all draft prospects, really). I just don’t think that T.J. Watt is the dynamic NFL player that the Packers need at pick 29. I also believe there will be better prospects, either at DL, EDGE or Cornerback, or wherever the front office decides to go with the pick. If the Packers do take Watt at 29, I’ll be right with y’all cheering for him and hoping he turns into what you guys think he will be, but I’m not quite ready to hop on that hype train yet.