Prior to the start of the first round yesterday, I published an article about the potential for this year’s rookie draft class to contribute on the field in year one. While Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has tried to avoid the perception that last year’s impact from the rookie class can be duplicated, I argued that there will still be opportunities.
And it seems that their first-round selection, T.J. Watt, is somebody whom they believe will be able to contribute as a rookie, even if they may not have directly gone out and said it. Tomlin seemed to deflect a question about his potential to succeed James Harrison, but there’s a high probability in my opinion that he is getting heavy rotation by the end of the season.
Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert were quite to deflect descriptions of Watt as raw, instead continually referring to his “one-year productivity” and his hand usage. “For a one-year linebacker, his ability to use his hands is advanced”, Colbert said.
“He beats people with his upper body just as much as with his lower body, and usually you don’t see that type of hand usage and know-how in a one-year player” the general manager went on to describe his latest acquisition. “That part was very attractive, and he’s a longer guy, so you put the hands and the feet and the length together, plus he’s pretty tenacious about it as well. It all worked for him last year and we just think it’ll work again”.
Tomlin added that his inexperience is “probably the most exciting element of the T.J. discussion. He’s worthy of the pick, but boy we’re excited about the potential upside and growth given the short length of time he’s played the position”.
I think the money quote here came from Colbert, though. When discussing his future if he can reach his full potential as a player with the infamous “upside” tag, he talked about “natural growth against better competition”.
Then he said this: “I think there’s no reason why he can’t contribute and be a significant player”, with the implication being in his rookie season. He provided the caveat that “he’ll be a young player”, but based on Bud Dupree’s role in his rookie season, I don’t think that will be an issue.
Comparing the two, mechanically, Dupree may have actually been the less refined and nuanced player in terms of being a pass-rusher, which Watt has been statistically more successful in doing in his brief time serving in that role while in college.
This is something that they talked about exploring during Jarvis Jones’ rookie season, but I think the addition of Watt once again opens up the discussion of developing a package in which the Steelers have three outside linebackers on the field. Watt is somebody who can rush from the middle as well, and his athleticism can be put to use while he is learning, and get those hands working.