Why TJ Watt Was The Steelers Perfect (And Expected) Pick

TJ Watt was the right pick.

It also was, if you’ve been following us, the one you should’ve expected all along. It’s not often those two things align in a draft class but in an offensive heavy draft at the top, eight of the top 12 picks going on that side of the ball, things fell perfectly.

That’s what I said in my pre-draft video shortly before Round One kicked off.

“If Watt is on the board, similar to Dupree, he’s going to be the guy.” 

Maybe you can thank, of all people, the Cleveland Browns, for the Steelers getting Watt. They swooped in to trade up with the Green Bay Packers at 29, a popular place where Watt was mocked. There was no repeat of last year when the Cincinnati Bengals stole William Jackson one pick ahead.

Back to Watt. Everything pointed to this guy being the pick. Let’s rehash all the reasons why.

Underclassmen with a ton of upside? Yup. Watt has just one year playing on defense.

Power 5 “name” college with a heavy Steelers’ attendance at his Pro Day plus the all-important Pro Day dinner? Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and Joey Porter were there, their version of the Holy Trinity. And they dined with Watt, making a pre-draft visit useless.

Top athlete who fits what the Steelers look for? Watt was one of two Combine outside linebackers who checked every box. The top line is the threshold for each category and the next row, how Watt tested.

NameHeightWeightArm Length40 Time10 SplitVerticalBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree ConeBench
Threshold6’124032 1/24.751.65339’5″4.357.0020
TJ Watt6’4/425233 1/84.691.593710’8″4.136.7921

Check, check, and check.

So it’s zero surprise the Steelers had a high level of interest in him. But what about Watt on the field? Their interest doesn’t mean he’s a good player or that you should blindly support the pick.

Most people will call Watt raw. But he isn’t. I’ve said it before and Tomlin was on the money when he rebuffed that notion at last night’s press conference. Don’t conflate raw for inexperienced. Where Watt’s game is at for how little he’s played the position is arguably the most exciting thing about him. His game is light years ahead of where you’d expect it to be, showing advanced hand use and nuance. He can win in a variety of ways, something Colbert pointed out too.

I posted some of these clips on Twitter so sorry if I’m repeating myself to you. But those were plays that had me, frankly, geeked. Like, got my driver’s license geeked.

Watch him rip under the LSU left tackle and use his 33 inch arms to keep space between him. Flexibility to flatten, turn upfield without getting run up the arc and able to meet the launch point – the junction point for the OT – of the quarterback. Doesn’t get the sack but earns the pressure and influences the incompletion.

He’s an effort, motor, and tenacious rusher too. Time standing up and used off ball and on stunts. He’s the looper on this stunt with Vince Biegel. But then works back inside when Biegel gets double-teamed and comes away with the sack.

Check the score. It’s 30-6 and 3rd and 27 with time running out. The game is OVER, Badgers win. And Watt is still going full tilt. I respect the heck out of it and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Easy to loaf and quit. Watt doesn’t. That’s a moment where you can look at him being in a football family and see how it affects him.

Back to his hand use. He isn’t just a speed guy. He wins with power, he wins with his hands. Check out this push/pull technique. Gets into the left tackle’s chest, pulls him forward to get the tackle to double-over and then looks to shed. Sorta washed out at the end, though I think the tackle held and Watt is able to defeat the block, and nearly got the pressure.

That was a junior left tackle looking like a freshmen against a guy just beginning to learn the position.

You see it against the run too. Back to the LSU game. Maybe a little late in his recognition but picks up the puller, attacks the inside shoulder and fills his gap to make the tackle.

All this speaks to one thing: refinement. And you normally wouldn’t – shouldn’t – expect that from a guy who is so inexperienced (again, not raw).

When you combine that with his athleticism, which is remarkable, his bloodlines, and the cathedral-like ceiling, it makes it an easy, and ultimately logical, pick to embrace.


In the interest of transparency, because you know that’s huge for me to share with you guys, and because I didn’t write the scouting report on Watt, here are my scouting report notes on him.

The Good: Size/length/athleticism, everything checks out. Boundary OLB, experience on right and left side but didn’t’ play in the field, had more confined space and that helped him. For as little XP as he has, advanced hand use and pass rush IQ. Uses hands well, length to create space, has ability to rip and dip the edge, shows great hip/ankle flexibility to flatten and get upfield. Shows push/pull technique and will counter vs outside sets when he has two way go, though could happen earlier in rush.

Uses length well to hold POA, not a ton of innate strength but it’s functional. High effort, energy player who chases run to the backside. Good tackler and finishes plays. Doesn’t quit, even late in game vs MSU, up 30-6 on 3rd and 27. Motor stays hot the entire game. Some experience spot dropping and shows ability to reroute, play pocket on the back. High upside.

The Bad: Biggest knock is everything has to happen earlier, shed sooner, happens too late for NFL standards. Asked to do things like wrong arm concepts but didn’t seem to fully grasp them and didn’t do great job vs lead blockers, FB/pullers? Has to learn to play the field and in more space than he did at Wisconsin.

Stats: 2016: 63 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 INT

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • foremania

    I love this pick so, so much. And you’re right on the money: this likely doesn’t happen if Cleveland doesn’t trade back into the 1st in Green Bay’s position ahead of us.

  • NCSteel

    Alex, great reasoning with facts and graphics to back up your case. Of course you’re right.
    This is a great pick.
    The guy is coachable,
    will work hard and like I commented before, you will see graduated improvement because of the coachability factor.
    I love the pick, the guy has TREMENDOUS upside and we got him at 30.
    Love it.

  • NCSteel

    Can we get someone to coach him besides Joey though LOL

  • Xclewsive

    To me TJ Watt remind of Von Miller and there measurables are almost identical. Just TJs ability to produce on limited amount of snaps on defense is crazy impressive. With some mentoring from Deebo over the next 2 yrs I can see TJ being a force for the Steelers defense.

  • Xclewsive

    I like Joey and think he’s done a good job so far and I’ll go know further than Anthony Chickillo. Jarvis Jones was a Butler pick and one of the biggest draft blunders since Troy Edwards.

  • stan

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen any mention of the biggest red flag about Watt: his knee issues. He’s already had surgeries on both knees and managed to complete only one healthy season in college.

  • The Tony

    Love TJ Watt! He is going to have plenty of time to develop. I wonder if we are going to rotate him between left and right side of the field pending who is on the field Harrison or Dupree. I am hoping we can still get another Middle Linebacker with speed. We are going to have so much speed with our linebacking core

  • Brian Tollini

    Brian Tollini: With the 30th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select T.J. Watt-OLB Wisconsin. I am on board despite the limited time he has spent in the position. High motor, strong/huge hands, good technique, great bloodlines…not a lot of talk about him compared to others, what is your opinion of him?

    Alex: He’s one of the next on my list to watch. If you follow/trust Tony Pauline, he said the Steelers like him but probably not enough to take him with the 30th pick. I think ultimately, I’ll like Lawson and Rivers more than Watt. So not in love with the idea of taking JJ’s bro that early.

    This was from nearly 6 weeks ago and (assuming) before you really dug deep into Watt. I am curious to know how much you are influenced by other scouts/analysts when it comes to evaluating players. I always find myself second-guessing myself when I like someone or don’t like someone based on what others say. What changed your mind on Watt?

  • Craig M

    Can you imagine the motivation level he could have been surrounded w/ had we of gotten Kevin Greene as OLB coach and having Harrison there too?

  • NCSteel

    exactly brother. right on

  • T3xassteelers

    Alex, I was already excited!! Getting me even more hyped about it!!!

  • capehouse

    I still think it was a slight reach. Depending on where you see guys like Solomon Thomas, Hassan Reddick, and Taco Charlton, he was the 8th Edge defender selected in rd 1. So seems more like a need based reach than taking the BPA who I though was Reuben Foster or my personal favorite Budda Baker. I really like the pick though. Similar to Artie Burns last year who was a slight reach too after a run on CBs in rd 1, but that worked out well. Definitely love his upside as a pass rusher, he seems ok in coverage and against the run, so yeah guess he was the perfect pick. Just curious where Lawson and Rivers will go, and what type of man coverage player we’ll add to the secondary on Day 2.

  • Bruce

    It’s easy to see his brother has shown him some things, and I would expect they will work together some in the off-season moving foward. That is why I liked so much for the Steelers pick!

  • WB Tarleton

    Oh, come on. We need to put that myth to bed.

    2013 was a historically bad first round draft class. If you could repick the first round today based on their careers so far, Jones may even go higher. lol

    I’m just saying, this is a hard business and you are going to miss, especially with really bad classes. Colbert gets a pass, IMO, as he does in 2009 (Ziggy) which was another horrendous class.

  • Biggie

    Perfect pick. Non stop motor guy with all the tools, just needs to learn the nuances to the position and couldn’t have a better guy to watch and learn from in Deebo. 3 more picks tonight to add some more help on defense hopefully in secondary and/or ILB.

  • Boots

    Even if he’s not the guy you wanted, its hard to argue its a bad pick. The team has liked him, its the teams biggest need, he has produced and will only get better. Can’t wait until him and Dupree are sandwiching QB’s on third downs!

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Meanwhile, I think the Browns showed that the Steelers are in their heads. Cleveland picking multiple players linked to the Steelers just shows (in my opinion) how far behind they are. Reminds me of a few years back when the Ravens traded in front of the Steelers to draft Maxx Williams—you know, the guy who’s done nothing in this league, but some rumored to be on the Steelers’ radar.

    While the Browns are eyeing the Steelers, the Steelers are eyeing a championship.

  • pcantidote

    Bungles did the same thing last year drafting a corner right in front of us when they really didn’t need one.

  • RobE

    Colbert addressed this, he said it “was something we were comfortable with”. I assume that means their Dr checked him out and gave a thumbs up about it not being a concern.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Very true. You know how much Colbert and Tomlin care what the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns do on draft day? They don’t.

  • Alex Kozora

    Nothing changed my mind on Watt. I was just late to getting around to watch him. Usually how it goes when someone else does the scouting report because I’m so swept up in getting my stuff done. Finally got to see him and then when you match that up with the history, and why he was a favorite to be the pick, it made perfect sense.

  • Alex Kozora

    But it’s a good class though. It’s about the grade, not how many guys go before him. A punter isn’t justified just b/c he’s the first off the board. And EDGE can be justified even if he’s 8th.

  • John Noh

    Hopefully they develop into a tandem as good as Porter/Haggans – not talking Lloyd/Greene yet.

  • Chris92021

    You can teach technique and moves. You can’t teach someone to be long and athletic. I also love that we will NEVER have to worry about TJ Watt taking plays off while on the field. Love or hate them, all of the Watt boys have the energy level of a 7 year old boy eating after Halloween trick or treating. Hope that energy rubs off on everyone else on the defense.

  • Danielsteelstrong81

    Heath Miller had medical flag too and he gave us great yrs

  • Shane Mitchell

    Tomlin And Colbert Point Out Watt Is Inexperienced, Not Raw

    Colbert On Watt: ‘No Reason’ He Can’t Be ‘Significant Player’

    Why TJ Watt Was The Steelers Perfect (And Expected) Pick

    Is there any chance we can keep it real? feels like we are trying to be convinced to buy a used car or something.

  • Danielsteelstrong81

    More motivation for the wattage

  • MoSteel

    By all means, keep it real. What’s your take?

  • capehouse

    Sound argument if TJ Watt was their first choice, but like Artie last year I don’t think he was. My grade on Watt was mid rd 2 because of his inexperience and injury history, so for me it was a reach.

  • Brian Tollini

    You had told me at that point you hadn’t watched him yet, just didn’t know at which point you started to like the pick. Do you allow other (pro) analysts sway your opinion or do you try not to let them sway your opinion?

  • Xclewsive

    Jarvis Jones tape lied and the Steelers got duped by it. The numbers he posted just didn’t match what was on tape. Now believe me this is all in hindsight and at the time I was all in for Jarvis, but his numbers left a lot of questions lingering. The Steelers aren’t afforded to many 1st round missteps since they are not FA players.

  • Dan

    Some commentators were saying this morning that the draft is like the Super Bowl for the Browns. They don’t win games during the season, but they can really get that draft collateral. It’s what they live for all year. Funny.

  • westcoasteeler

    Although stoked at the pick, I hope he finds experience fast cause we need him to be ready now, not in two years.

  • Alex Kozora

    I try to tune it all out. I don’t want to start second-guessing myself because of what someone else says. Trust my eyes, lean on the history of the pick, and make my best guess.

  • Alex Kozora

    Well sure, he wasn’t their highest rated dude. But I think they are very happy to get him, just as they were Burns.

  • Alex Kozora

    I liked Watt, said the pick made sense, so it’d be weird to say anything else after the draft. The Colbert/Tomlin stuff, that’s just us grabbing stuff from the interview. Pretty standard stuff we do around here.

  • Dan

    Could be a reach; we’ll never know the Steelers’s grades or true wants. But I’m optimistic. He seems to have the things that can’t be coached and his weaknesses are coachable things. It will be interesting to see who has the better career between Foster and Watt, as Foster also could have been a nice fit. Hoping for the best.

  • capehouse

    No doubt.

  • Dan

    I would have to guess more on Harrison’s side, but anything could change with an injury here or there. Hopefully that won’t be the case and he can be rotated in based on stellar performance.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Good
    -High effort player
    -good hand usage
    -good athlete
    -His brother is JJ Watt
    -high character

    Bad
    -Chronic knee problems caused him to miss most of his college career
    -Switched positions because of knee problems
    -Two months into becoming a starter after finally playing a season healthy he was looking to enter the NFL draft.
    – Most of his QB pressures were unblocked off the ball blitzes
    -was physically dominated by bigger tackles
    -wasnt the best linebacker on the team
    -he is raw, whether we want to call that raw or inexperienced is a matter of linguistics
    -he is far from the perfect pick, when we need immediate pass rush help
    -he is a 2 year project player
    -his stats were helped out immensely by scheme, not as bad as Jarvis Jones but similar.

  • capehouse

    Pretty much agree with that take. I thought Watt was a mid 2nd rd pick. Actually thought he was a 3rd rounder to start but the process swayed my opinion. We needed an OLB though so I’m happy with the pick. Just been a fan of Lawson from day 1 so interested to see where he goes. Rivers too.

  • LucasY59

    Agree there is no way to be surprised by this pick (other than the cheeseheads trading out of #29 which mightve been the reason he was available at 30)

    the guy checked every box for things the steelers look for (beyond predictable) power 5 school (check) underclassen (check) pedigree (check) dropped to be available (check) the measurables that match up to recent players at the position (check on all measurables) Tomlin & Colbert taking him to dinner at pro day (check) ARII saying they need to address the position (check)

    all that = typical race up to the podium with the pick

    as for the next pick because of predictability and ARII mentioning another position I am VERY worried they are going to take Brad Kaaya, I will not be happy if it happens (with any of the picks today) but I will not be surprised

  • TsarPepe

    FWIW, J. J. Watt said his younger brother is better than he was at this stage of his career. Scary suggestion!

  • LucasY59

    and they still manage to mismanage it

  • LucasY59

    30 teams were scared of Foster for some reason as well

  • LucasY59

    yep the pass rushers that went ahead of Jarvis were even worse than Jones (Jordan & Mingo went about ten picks earlier and they are terrible) and lots of other 1st rd picks at other positions were bad as well

  • Josh

    Woodley/Harrison not too bad either

  • Jim Foles

    Kaaya had the highest wonderlic score of all the QB’s … He has potential and IQ…

  • Jim Foles

    we had the chance…

  • francesco

    You need to develop a spin move.
    Only way to get to the quarterback faster IMO.

  • John Noh

    Yes, before Woodley discovered the wonders of the Golden Corral.

  • LucasY59

    I’d be as excited as I was about them drafting landry…

  • Shane Mitchell

    I understand I am the same way with my favorites (Jordan Willis) God forbid someone tries to tell me he cant bend the edge, just all the articles looking at the headlines make it seem like you are trying to convince me that he is perfect in every way. I am going to start calling him TJ Perfect. I understand you are happy about the pick, I will give him a chance but I dont think he is such a perfect pick at the moment, he has to earn it with me.

  • Shane Mitchell

    TJ Perfect, how many sacks you all speculate we can expect out of him this season over or under 4 sacks?

  • Alex Kozora

    Well he’s not literally perfect – it’s a title. I think we’ve pointed out his flaws. I posted the good and bad of his game at the bottom. Right after the pick, we bumped up his scouting report which obviously has a bunch of pros and cons.

    He’s gotta earn it, sure, but where we stand today, with a LONG road ahead of us no doubt, I’m happy.

  • Brendon Glad

    I’m still hoping for major attention to be paid to the secondary, yes, even though I like Davis and Burns…but OLB was also a need. And I think they picked the right guy available there.

    But he will not get the position handed to him either. Because James Harrison has proven to be NOT a man easily unseated for snaps at his ROLB position. And I think that’s a good thing. It will add fierce competition…and Dupree probably notices it too. Because if he slips, and JH continues to be very excellent, then that could affect his snaps too.

    I like the pick.