2017 Midseason Player Evaluations: OLB T.J. Watt

With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.

The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.

The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.

Player: T.J. Watt, OLB

The first rookie that we get to discuss, first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt has so far been the first rookie defender to show staying power as a full-time starter from the first snap of the season to the last since Kendrell Bell in the early 2000s.

Others have been given the keys and have come up short as rookies. See Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones in their rookie seasons. Javon Hargrave was technically a starter, but a starter in a position that is essentially a sub-package player. Artie Burns and Sean Davis worked into the starting lineup in the second half of the year.

Watt has been unlike any other rookie the Steelers have had on defense in a long time, and only any since Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Because he’s not like a rookie. Like Pouncey, he came in from day one and just took ownership of everything with a professional mindset and was a day-one starter despite having an incumbent to contend with.

Watt was not handed the starting job by any means. He earned it. He is keeping James Harrison off the field, to the chagrin of many, admittedly. But he has also produced, recording 28 tackles with four sacks, an interception, and four passes defensed in seven games.

He has gotten his hands on a number of footballs, and that has been instrumental in him seeing the field. The Steelers have been using him a lot to drop into coverage, probably more than anybody over the course of the past few years. He batted a pass down from the second level just on Sunday.

He’s not a finished product, but he is already a starter-quality player, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. He has a great athletic skill set the build from, and an incisive football mind to pair with a deadly serious work ethic.

I wasn’t in love with the selection of Watt, though it was one of my top handful of realistic choices for their first pick. But it’s hard to argue with the results. He’s fit in perfectly and has produced in the process, while only promising to get even better.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • rystorm06

    Really good pick. I don’t know how high his ceiling is, but he has been a solid plug and play draft pick. He doesn’t look like a rookie at all, plays the game and carries himself like a veteran who belongs

  • MailboxKid

    He’s been pretty solid dropping into coverage. I don’t know much but he seems to be aware enough to understand his depth and make QBs make harder throws on out routes. That’s been more surprising for me than anything.

  • Michael James

    To be quite honest: We’ve reached a point where we shouldn’t be discussing subbing out Watt for Harrison.
    We should be discussing subbing out Dupree for Harrison, if Dupree doesn’t show any improvement in the pass-rushing department soon.

  • James Lee

    I would give the Steelers an A+ for our number 1 and 2 picks this year.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    I have Kendrell Bell ranked # 204 on my all-time Dteelers list. Injury cut him short in his 4th season, otherwise Steelers may have kept him and he would have had a very productive career instead of the 3 short seasons he excelled.

  • Mark

    Watt is having an amazing season. Can’t wait to see him in years to come.

  • joe triplehorns

    Watt is in a good place. He’s drawing double teams and producing at every facet of OLB. And if Steelers gave him a chance on offense. I would bet Watt would generate much more offense than M.bryant has. I see they took M. bryant’s evaluation down. Too negative to bare…WHUSSES!

  • RyanW

    Bryants evaluation is still up

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    I think he has a very hight ceiling. Remember he has only been playing the position for a few years. He’s incredibly versatile, plays with a nastiness, and non-stop motor.

    Watt is going to keep getting better and better just wait. Reminds me a lot of Jamie Collins (Pats version) with his versatility on the rush, pass, and run-stop.

    Sky’s the limit for this dude.

    I also think he could fill in at MLB in a pinch if we wanted!

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    Dupree is very one-dimensional. Needs to learn more moves and switch up his game a bit more. Relies too much on that first step but he disappears some games.

    Look he has a motor like no other. Just needs some more time to develop – time is running out though.

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    Watt, along with Smith Shuster, continues Colbert and Tomlin’s recent hot streak. The complete rebuild of both units, starting with Pouncey and the offensive line, starters and backups team wide, seems about complete.

    Even the flops weren’t killers! For every Mike Adams or Senquez Golson, up pops an Al Villanueva or Mike Hilton. Ziggy Hood and Jarvis Jones turn into Tuitt and Watt. That’s impressive!

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Hot streak is a stretch.

  • Grant Humphrey

    Lol not the Browns version

  • dany

    I kept hearing in the offseason how Dupree would be the one most dropping into coverage because of his size and agility. Now Watt is doing better in just about everything. Hope Dupree can step it up

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    First three picks last year — all ROOKIE starters. First two picks this year — two more ROOKIE starters. Define HOT!

  • Doug McFee

    Steelers defense is better with #90 On the field.

  • joe triplehorns

    Thanks R.W.; But I can’t find it on my Disqus. They must have took down my comment. If you are curious or just find a moment;Would you please check and see if my comment is still up. It is within the 1st 10 comments. If you don’t it’s cool…I get busy too.

  • Bob Loblaw

    His motor is probably what keeps him on the field. He can cover a lot of ground quickly. He’s not going to have as much trouble as Harrison or Moats if asked to drop into coverage. And his pass rushing abilities are still miles above what we saw from Jarvis Jones.

  • Taylor Williams

    I was seriously rooting for Dupree before the season started. I thought he’ll put it all together and become a 10+ sack guy. The hype was real.
    Turns out the guy has nothing besides a simple speed rush. Gets destroyed up the arc and washed out on running plays. He’s like a faster Jarvis Jones that can’t stop the run.

  • Taylor Williams

    I think he’ll be the JJ Watt of all OLBs by year 3.

  • Paul RK

    I don’t think Harrison has ever played on Dupree’s side of the field. It’s a little late to teach that dog new tricks….

  • Paul RK

    when you have that many rookie starters it does not speak well of your existing veterans….

  • NinjaMountie

    It’s most assuredly a hot streak.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yeah, hence the rebuild mentioned.

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Kudos to the Steelers for drafting an immediate starter so late in the first round and for following that up with JuJu in the second round. Adding two young starters to the lineup will keep them strong at those positions for many years.

  • T3xassteelers

    his SPARQ score was out of this world too!!!

  • Brenton deed

    As mentioned in the original comment: they have also repaired busts with late round and undrafted diamonds. AV, Beach and now Hilton plus some late round bonuses VW, Dirty Red, Chick and Foster(UDFA).
    Statistically the first three rounds produce your starters so a bust here screws up your planning, conversely late round successes are gold and the FO has had plenty in the last few years. (Oh what about AB?)!
    The only area where they failed was mid to late round DB picks and that’s what many seemed to focus on.

  • NinjaMountie

    Harrison can play right because Watt has gotten a ton of work on the left and has played there in games this year.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’ve really enjoyed watching Watt in coverage. We couldn’t have drafted a better DB!

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Pretty much nailed it there.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    He has a lot more determination and “want to” than Bud.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    we gonna talk about 13 14 and 15 then?

  • Steelsmoke

    Soo lucky that he is a Steeler. Still can not believe Green Bay passed on him. Watched him in college he was everywhere. Now he is in Black and Gold.

  • MC

    Thank you. I can’t understand the love Dupree was getting last week because he made a sack that had the guard completely miss his assignment. If a lineman picks him up he gets stonewalled every time. He is just a more athletic Jarvis. I’ve keyed on him for most games and he is a huuuuge disappointment

  • MC

    I wanna see Watt on Dupree side cause he’s flexible and then bring James into his normal spot. Dupreee is the weakest chain on this defense.

  • Michael James

    I would let Watt switch sides, not Harrison.

  • Michael James

    Same here. I was really rooting for him this season and I had high hopes. So far he’s been a major disappointment and that shoulder injury doesn’t really count as excuse anymore (at least for me). He still gets pushed up the arc like on day one.

  • Michael James

    Problem is that we haven’t seen some major improvement since he got drafted. He’s still pretty much the same player like in April 2015 in the pass-rush department.

  • Michael James

    Are they though?
    He gets more sacks due to his phenomenal athleticism, but that has nothing to do with pass rushing abilities.
    How many “quality sacks” did he actually produce (aka defeating an OL 1-vs-1 via pass rushing techniques)? Almost none.
    That’s the problem. Nearly all of his sacks come unblocked, via stunts or hustle plays. Not because he has some good pass rushing ability.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I was literally jumping up and down calling his name as he was available at the Steelers pick. I hope he can continue to stay healthy and get a full season of playing time this season.

  • Michael James

    13 wasn’t great (to be honest, the whole draftclass was one of the worst ever), but they still somehow got a monster in Bell. Bell alone is just so good and valuable, he easily made the 2013 a success. Then they also got a late-round steal in Vince Williams.
    14 was very good. Shazier and Tuitt are Pro Bowl calibre players. Then you can add Bryant and to a lesser degree McCullers (at least he still made the roster once again).
    15 wasn’t great. But they still found their starting LT in Villanueva (outside of the draft) and Dupree, Walton, J.James and Chickillo are at least good depth players.
    16 was great.
    17 looks great, too.

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    Dammit! You guys keep beating me to the punch!

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    I was ‘gonna,’ but yours is better! I can’t find the high five emoji.

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    The draft is a crap shoot in every round in every year and they can continue to get better in several areas.

    Round 5 for many years was simply cringe-worthy. I also do NOT like trading away late round draft choices on other teams busts to plug holes! But I think a lot of that was desperation — just too many holes to fill in one draft.

    The whole point is the front office and coaching staff seem able to recognize their mistakes and at least attempt to correct what they can, without gutting the coaching staff, front office and team every 3-4 years to satisfy a fickle fan base that wants every receiver fired for every drop, every quarterback’s head on a spike for every interception and every offensive coordinator shot out of a cannon for running a draw on third and get your quarterback killed.

    They see their screw-ups and can and do get better over time. What they don’t do is listen to fans and media and PANIC! That gets you Cleveland.

    Fortunately, this isn’t Cleveland and the Rooney’s don’t take their football advice from fans or media. That is ridiculously RARE in this league and why it works!