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Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
6-4, 252 pounds
Key stat: In his first full season starting in 2016, Watt was named second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten by collecting 63 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 11.5 sacks.
The skinny: Younger brother of Houston Texans star J.J. Watt and Los Angeles Chargers fullback Derek Watt, T.J. didn’t make a splash in Madison until his final season. After redshirting as a freshman in 2013, Watt — then a tight end — was sidetracked by a right knee injury that knocked him out for the entire 2014 season. He then suffered a left knee injury during spring ball in 2015, which kept him in a reserve role after switching to linebacker that season. But he broke out in a big way this past season for the fourth-best scoring defense in the country.
Best-suited destination: Scouts believe Watt could line up as an undersized 4-3 rusher because he has a frame that could carry more weight, but his best spot might be as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos would be natural fits. Those that use multiple fronts, such as the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals, also make sense. But Watt is versatile enough to fit almost any system with the right development and body reshaping.
Upside: Few players improved as much as Watt did from 2015 to 2016, and some evaluators believe he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Sets a good, hard edge in the run game and packs some pop. Watt has massive hands and uses them well to disengage from blockers. He offers good play strength, excellent balance and can close on ballcarriers quickly. Work ethic, as you’d expect for someone with his last name, is top notch. His frame could carry another 15 pounds or more with ease; he’s not even close to maxed out, strength-wise. Watt’s athletic testing numbers at the NFL scouting combine were surprisingly good, even for his exceptional bloodlines.
Downside: Scouts were a bit caught off guard by his combine testing and feel like it didn’t always translate to his on-field performance, even as active as he was. Burly tackles can lock him up. Watt can be taken in man coverage by backs and tight ends (see Penn State game). Not yet a truly natural pass rusher. Some of his production was “schemed up” well to give him good, clean rush lanes for sacks, tackles for loss and pressures. That and only one year of production have some teams a tiny bit skeptical, needing to project his upside a bit too much. Injury history is a concern.
Scouting hot take: “The LSU game was such an eye-opener for me because I obviously knew who he was but hadn’t seen him play like that. They put a lid on [Leonard] Fournette. I was very impressed with [Watt] and the [Ryan] Ramczyk kid, because it was really my first time seeing both guys. They were impressive. We saw that most of the season [from Watt]. He moves really well and has room to grow. I like him, and not just because of who his brother is.” — Midwest scout
Player comp: Trent Murphy
Expected draft range: Top 60 pick
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