Preseason in the NFL is a fairly exciting time of year. It combines as good of a combination as we’ll get of football and optimism. We get to see young draft picks on the field for the first time and listen to their coaches (mostly) say good things about them. Hyperbole from pundits reaches epidemic levels and it’s hard to weed out what may be true from what is just another over-hyped situation.
While it’s not uncommon for a second-string quarterback to look like Joe Montana against a 3rd string defense, it’s exceedingly more rare for a defensive player to jump off the screen quite like T.J. Watt did in his first preseason contest.
Watt was drafted by the Steelers at 30, unfortunately, and I still haven’t gotten over it. The Steelers picked Watt with the selection immediately following the 29th slot, which Green Bay had traded away for the 33rd and 108th choices.
In that aforementioned preseason game, the Steelers took on the New York Giants and the youngest Watt came out like Drogon on the Lannister Army. He recorded a pair of first-quarter sacks, making the Giants offensive line look completely ridiculous. On the first sack, he just powered through the left tackle and smothered the Giants quarterback. On the second, he maintained his discipline on a read-option fake and brought down the QB with veteran-like patience.
First career sack alert @_TJWatt gets to the QB. pic.twitter.com/CF2o4tynqP— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2017
He's not wasting any time, is he? pic.twitter.com/AcZ9csAlnx— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2017
Although, T.J. doesn’t boast the same size as his inhuman brother J.J., he is quicker. Here is the eldest Watt brother discussing the youngest:
He’s much better than me at that age. He’s much more refined. He’s got better instincts than I had at that age.
T.J. played at Wisconsin so I assumed that the Packers had a great first look at him. Instead, they elected to trade back and draft DB Kevin King while accumulating more assets, namely the pick that turned into Vince Biegel, Watt’s teammate at Wisconsin. This was probably the right move, but is this Packer karma coming back at us?
Everyone remembers the 2005 draft, when the San Francisco 49ers passed on Aaron Rodgers for Alex Smith, leading to Aaron Rodgers falling into Ted Thompson’s lap at pick 24. Then-49ers VP of Player Personnel (and former Packers regional scout) Scot McCloughan still regrets that decision to this day. Could this end up being Ted Thompson’s McCloughan Decision? (Side note: The McCloughan Decision sounds like a really bad Bourne series knock-off). With every draft pick comes the question of which players drafted later will turn into stars. In this case, it’s definitely far too early to draw conclusions, but it’s something to consider.
King is expected to play a prominent role in the Packers’ secondary and is still learning a difficult NFL position. Biegel, meanwhile, hasn’t practiced since rookie minicamp due to foot surgery, and his preseason debut is still on hold. This puts a large spotlight on a pass rush unit that is already under pressure to perform in order to take some of the weight off the team’s young secondary.
It must also be noted that T.J. Watt has had his issues with injuries. They could be random, but sometimes players are just prone to getting hurt. The Packers’ last few deep playoff runs have included deeper pass rush groups than they currently have on paper. Even 5 years of Watt, if injuries persist, would be helpful as a win-now move to help get another trophy to Titletown.
And T.J. appears ready to contribute immediately. Reports are that he’s already replacing longtime Steeler James Harrison in the starting lineup. If you can replace someone who can do this, you might be good.
Watt switched from tight end to outside linebacker in college and versatile football players on defense are usually something that the Packers keep an eye on. I’ve got my own eye on T.J., and I think other Packer fans are going to be paying attention to the former Wisconsin Badger and how his career compares to those of King and Biegel.