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2017 NFL Draft scouting report: T.J. Watt

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Today we break down and profile linebacker T.J. Watt out of Wisconsin.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If we were to judge prospects based on bloodlines then T.J. Watt would probably be a top three pick in this draft, thanks to his brother J.J. Watt, a three time defensive player of the year. For one, that would certainly make a scout’s job easy, but in reality, that’s not how these things work. The good news however is that the third Watt brother and linebacker out of Wisconsin can certainly hold his own, and looks to create his own success story as he begins his NFL career.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt had a bit a roller coaster experience at the University of Wisconsin. Coming in originally as a tight end, Watt struggled to gain a starting position and ended up taking a red shirt his first year. Following this, the injury bug would haunt Watt for the next two seasons. First in his right knee, and later in his left knee causing him to miss the entire 2015 season. The silver lining out of all this was that with some advice from his coach, Watt discovered his true identity out on the football field, and like brother J.J., his role would soon become terrorizing the opposing teams quarterback as a pass rusher.

Watt had a successful, and more importantly healthy 2016 season with the Badgers. He immediately won the starting role and never looked back, posting double digit sack totals and tackles for loss of yardage. His ability to push blockers back, and immediately create pressure in the opposing backfield led to many of his sacks and quarterback rushes. Of all the pass rushes I have watched on film, Watt had one of the best arm techniques to help him maneuver around blockers to get to the passer. I Think Watt has desirable size to play the SAM linebacker role in the 4-3 with the opportunity to continue to grow and add more muscle to perhaps play defensive end. Something that really caught my attention on film was his positive production in pass protection. More than a few times on tape Watt was able to disrupt and find his way into passing lanes to break up a play. While his initial first step is a work in progress, I do like his natural ability to move vertically and laterally, which is a big thing scouts look for in today’s pass-happy league.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, I really like his football I.Q. and instincts. His awareness for where the play is happening and ability to get himself involved early and often in plays add more value to his stock as a prospect and a future playmaker in the NFL. Love his ability to tackle, and wrap himself cleanly around the opposition to immediately bring them to the ground.

Here was Watt’s stats for the 2016 season: 63 Tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 4 passes batted, 2 forced fumbles.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Basics

School: Wisconsin
Jersey Number: 42
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 252 lbs.
Hands: 11”
Arm Length: 33 1/8”
40 Time: 4.69
Bench Press: 21 Reps
Vertical Jump: 37.0”
Broad Jump: 128.0”
3 Cone Drill: 6.79
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.13
60 Yd Shuttle: 11.20

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

How the measurables translate for Linebackers

Information on measurables courtesy of Draft Breakdown

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Drill Target Explanation

40 yd dash. 4.80 Speed over distance
10 yd split 1.70 Initial quickness
225 Bench 24 Upper body strength
Vertical Jump 33″ Explosiveness
Broad Jump 9’6″ Explosiveness
20 yd shuttle 4.20 Flexibility/burst/balance
60 yd shuttle 11.7 Endurance
3 cone drill 7.20 Agility/COD

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Do Your Homework:

Here is a video of highlights and game film of Watt in action. Opponents include: Michigan State, Western Michigan, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, Penn State, and Minnesota.

PROS

  • Constantly causes disruption in the opponents backfield, creating pressure on the passer.
  • Willing to run down the passer on extended plays after the pocket collapses.
  • Sack artists appeal with double digit figures; had the opportunity to produce even more sacks.
  • Ability to extend his arms and use his strong hands to help him evade blockers on pass rush attempts. I love his ability to twist his body around blockers as well.
  • Is able to quickly warp up his opponent and tackle cleanly, immediately bringing his opponent to the ground.
  • Has strong awareness for where the play is going to happen, and gets himself involved early, often, and quickly.
  • One of the better linebackers I watched on film in pass coverage. Has great laterally movement to disrupt passing lanes.
  • Versatile, in that he has strong qualities and skill set as a linebacker in both defending the run and the pass.

CONS:

  • Durability and injury history that will have to be closely monitored. It took him till 2016 to have a completely healthy season. Both the left and right knees have experienced significant injuries already. There was a point from 2012-2015 that Watt did not play in a single football game.
  • Continuing to grow, develop, and gain experience as a defensive player. Originally was recruited to Wisconsin as a tight end, and only after his knee injuries did he switch to the defensive side of the ball in 2015.
  • First step and footwork are still a work in progress, however the potential is there for improvement in these areas of need.
  • As a pass rusher, there will be some growing pains, transitioning to the next level. Watt will need to get more creative in evading and getting by NFL quality blockers.
NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Summary

T.J. Watt is a well-rounded football player. Originally recruited on the offensive side of the ball, he didn't break a sweat when he switched positions and became a focal point on the Badgers defensive line. You can’t help but think about J.J. a little when you watch the tape, however T.J. is out to write his own story and legacy, and I believe he has the talent to do so at the next level. My big concern with Watt is his health history and durability. His knees in particular will have to be monitored. However, we have seen players in college with injury after injury and when they get to the NFL, they continue to have a clean bill of health — I’m looking at you Frank Gore.

The San Francisco 49ers need help in the pass rushing department. I think Watt can be an excellent addition to the 49ers. Currently I seem Watt potentially playing the SAM linebacker role in the 4-3 defense. There may also be an opportunity for him to play defensive end as well. Either way, he would help fill a major need in the 49ers defense. The fact that he is strong defending both the pass and the run only adds more value to his stock.

His draft value continues to be the biggest the biggest question. Evaluators seems to be a bit all over the place in grading and valuing Watt in the upcoming Draft. After assessing and watching the tape I am going to grade Watt in Round 2. However, that doesn’t mean Watt will necessarily make it out of the first round of the draft. With all that said, if the 49ers envision Watt in their new defense then their best bet is to use their second round draft pick (34th overall), with even the possibility of having to trade back into the end of the 1st round.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round

What are your thoughts on T.J. Watt? Do you like him with the 34th pick in the draft? Do you think the 49ers would have to trade up to get him? Does his injury history concern you? Please share in the comments below!