With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt. In two full seasons and 25 games, Watt amassed 103 tackles (73 solo), 40 tackles for loss (33 solo), 11 sacks, 12 passes defenses, and three forced fumbles. He played tight end for Central Michigan in 2007, redshirted for Wisconsin in 2008, and played defensive end for the Badgers in 2009 and 2010. His last collegiate season was his best, and the one everyone's looking at when Watt is talked about as a first-round draft pick - he put up 59 tackles (40 solo), an amazing 21 tackles for loss (18 solo), seven sacks, three forced fumbles, 10 quarterback hurries, and three blocked kicks.
Pros: Displays relentless pursuit from snap to whistle - though he's not terribly fast in short spaces, the clichéd term "non-stop motor" applies here. Great turn around the tackle when rushing the passer, and he's got the ability to turn out of the rush to go after the run - he's not just a one-directional player. Excellent sense of run direction at the line; he doesn't just blindly pursue. Instead, he'll stop and assess and redirect to make the tackle.
Knows how get aggressive with his hands at the line to get around blockers, and he presents a very impressive hand-strike at the point of attack. No matter how hard he's going against a blocker, he always keeps his eye on the ballcarrier. Potentially dominant as a wide five-tech pass rusher - he wouldn't have to engage a tackle straight on.
Cons: Watt runs around with a lot of energy on the field, but the lack of straight line speed for his size (6-foot-6, 292 pounds) shows up when he just misses tackles and winds up diving for ballcarriers that aren't there. Has the power and pop to split double-teams, but can just as easily be re-directed out of the play by power tackles. Gets by with quite a few ankle tackles - he'll have to work on wrapping up at the NFL level. Basic technique flaws in certain instances, but these are things that can be worked on at the NFL level. The basic structure is there.
Conclusion: Players like Watt are in a "right place/right time" scenario with the upswing in hybrid fronts (3-4 to 4-3 and back) and the increased need for defensive linemen who can alternate between penetrating past guards at defensive tackle and stopping the run at five-tech end. Half a decade ago, Watt may have been relegated to a straight three-tech position that really didn't fit him (think Adam Carriker(notes) with the Rams), but he's now got a lot more options at his disposal.
Watt could make a big difference to any line needing a run-stopping end opposite a pure speed-rusher - a player who could also operate inside in nickel sets and other obvious passing downs. One of the reasons you see so many ends and tackles at the top of anyone's draft board lately is that it's a rare era in which talent and scheme need have exploded at the same time. That's great news for Watt and many of his contemporaries.
NFL Comparison: Adam Carriker, Washington Redskins
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado