The Green Bay Packers could have drafted T.J. Watt, now the starting right outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, if they wanted to. They chose not to. They were sitting there with the 29th pick in the first round. Instead of making a selection, they traded out of the first round to the 33rd-overall spot.
The Steelers used their next pick, the 30th overall, to take Watt, and in a couple of days, the rookie will get the opportunity to try to show the Packers what they missed out on. The Wisconsin native, who played for the Wisconsin Badgers, would have fit right in both in their defense and their culture.
“I thought it was a legitimate possibility that I could go to Green Bay”, the rookie told Packers reporters over the course of the week during a conference call, looking back toward the draft. “But they didn’t want me”, he added.
Not that they weren’t looking for an outside linebacker. In fact, they ended up taking one of Watt’s teammates, Vince Biegel, at the position, who could see increased playing time on Sunday in the event that Clay Matthews is unable to play. Biegel, a fourth-round pick, was on the Physically Unable to Perform List until the start of November. He has recorded seven tackles in the three games since he was activated.
In the meantime, Watt has made nine starts, missing one game due to injury, recording 33 tackles to go along with four sacks, an interception, and an impressive five passes defensed, which indicates the frequency with which he drops into coverage on passing downs rather than consistently rushing the passer.
Perhaps the Packers, like others, believed that Watt was too inexperienced at the position to make an immediate impact, especially in a more nuanced defense that asks its edge defenders to carry out a variety of assignments, but he has proven to be a quick learner. Still, it’s nothing personal.
“Obviously being from Wisconsin and growing up a Packers fan for the majority of my”, he said, “I think people are trying to make this game seem like it’s a lot bigger to me than it is. But to be honest with you, I didn’t have high expectations or I didn’t really care where I ended up in the draft”.
He added, “I just wanted to end up with a good team and a great fit, and I’m glad that I ended up here in Pittsburgh. This is going to be just another game for me, and more importantly it’s another game at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation”.
The Packers ended up drafting cornerback Kevin King with their 33rd-overall selection. He has played in eight games this year, missing the past two due to injury, recording 24 tackles with four passes defensed. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 23 receptions on 39 targets for 365 yards and a touchdown and a 98.8 quarterback rating.