A Long Lingering Look at the Steelers’ First Round Draft Pick
How can I help taking a long lingering look? The Steelers, to Momma’s tremendous excitement, picked her No. 1 BLA choice for the first round, T. J. Watt..
Fortunately for me, Momma, and the Steelers, Watt is more than a pretty face. A lot more. I may joke around about the “Best-Looking Player Available,” but what I really love is a high character guy. And if he is also chock full of football smarts, why would you hesitate?
There’s a lot of talk today about the players the Steelers passed up, most notably Reuben Foster. But given the difficulties they’ve encountered recently, how on earth could they take a chance on a guy with a failed drug test – at the Combine?
Actually, I’ll tell you how they could do that, because they actually did about five years ago. You all remember the story, I’m sure. Mike Adams from Ohio State was well up their draft board, by all accounts, although no one ever knows for sure. Then he failed the combine drug test, and came right off the board, until Adams drove to Pittsburgh, basically demanded an interview, and begged for another chance. They gave it to him. And I’m sorry to say it didn’t turn out well.. I don’t know about y’all, but I would be rather hesitant to dive into those waters once again.
And why bother? Watt is someone the Steelers have been watching for a while, every since last fall. Former Pitt coach Paul Chryst brought him to Kevin Colbert’s attention, since Watt was thinking of declaring for the draft. Chryst wasn’t sure that was a great idea, since Watt had only played defense for a short time after Chryst suggested he switch from tight end, and he was pretty inexperienced. As the story goes, Colbert looked at the film and said, “Coach, this kid’s a first round pick.”
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that Watt’s brother J.J. also began college as a tight end. He actually started at Central Michigan along with Antonio Brown. Watt transferred to Wisconsin, where they switched him to defense as well. There is a third brother who is a fullback with the Los Angeles Rams.
On the surface, the Steelers already seem to be set at OLB, with James Harrison the putative starting ROLB and Bud Dupree the starting LOLB. They have Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo for depth. But as I see it this is the perfect situation for Watt. He can come to a club that doesn’t need him to start from Day 1, so he can just work on technique and on absorbing as much as possible from Harrison. (Watt has already stated he can’t wait to start working with Harrison.) He can then work his way into the rotation as the circumstances and his progress dictate. So the Steelers weren’t in a position of having to hope they could get Watt ready for Game 1.
Bryant McFadden was asked what he thought of the pick on a Post-Gazette video, and here, slightly abridged, is what he had to say:
The question to McFadden was “Is he a perfect fit for this Steelers defense as an outside linebacker?” McFadden’s response was to clap. Then he said:
“I love the pick…no question he’s a perfect fit for what they love to do. This is a guy who played in a 3-4 system at the collegiate level in Wisconsin, so the transition to the 3-4 there in Pittsburgh should not be as difficult as it is for other players accustomed to playing in a 4-3 system.
And then you look at the quality of the one-on-one coaching he will receive. The outside linebacking coach is Joey Porter. He knows a lot about rushing the passer and being a quality defender.
This is a big-time addition. You still have James Harrison there, a great mentor… You’d better believe, if Mr. Watt’s work ethic in the weight room is not already in place, following James Harrison in the weight room, he will be a beast. And it’s hard for me to think he doesn’t understand the value of going hard, because look who his brother is.
Bud Dupree, when he was healthy last year, played big-time football. You’ve got a nice three-man rotation there on the outside. Great pick!”
Apparently Watt also feels this is a good place for him to land, as he was quoted in the PG article linked above:
“I knew it was a great fit for me,” said Watt, who had dinner with Tomlin and Colbert after his pro day workout at Wisconsin.
“I’m ecstatic to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. It’s insane.”
One thing I keep reading is about his effort. He never quits on a play, or a game. One such was pointed out by Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot. It was at the end of a game Wisconsin was winning 30-6, and still Watt was going full bore. If that isn’t character I don’t know what is.
He’s a student of the game and eager to learn. As his brother told the Houston Chronicle:
“He’s so similar to me but he’s farther along than I was at that point in the process,” J.J. Watt said. “He’s a lot better player than I was at that time. He has a lot more to grow even than I had. I think he’s a really special player and it’s been a lot of fun to watch him go through the process.
“He’s so hungry. He’s just itching to learn and grow as a person and as a player so he is always asking questions, he’s always wanting to compete in the workouts.”
There’s a lot to be said for a guy not thinking he knows it all. He knows a lot, though. Those of you who have been reading my musings are well aware that I like a player who values the education he has an opportunity to get during his college years, and Watt earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2015 and 16 (which seems backwards, but that’s how it’s listed on the Wisconsin website.) He majored in retailing and consumer behavior. Hopefully this isn’t just a fancy name for shopping.
The MMQB ran an article about Watt last fall, and there’s some marvelous stuff there. I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Here are a few quotes to whet your interest:
T.J. monitors his sleep; he aims for nine hours a night. He is keenly aware of every calorie he devours. “You don’t need to diet,” he says. “Just whole, nutritious meals and not junk.”
“It’s not like he almost has a professional mindset about it,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox says. “It is a professional mindset.”
Watt claims he has few interests other than football. “I don’t go out on weekends,” he says. “After games, I’ll literally sit in my apartment and watch football. I have it instilled in me from my brothers, J.J. especially, minimal gains and marginal gains, you can be one percent better. I honestly believe that if I stay in, there’s probably a player from Michigan State or Ohio State going out drinking beer, and I have to be getting better than him.”
The article also noted that every time Watt finished a game and picked up his phone there would be 100s of text messages from his brothers critiquing his play. So along with Watt we get a free set of personal coaches!
Here’s something to treasure until training camp starts – a video of an interception Watt made against Purdue. It maybe doesn’t look that tough until you see some of the other angles, and that was a pretty sweet catch:
And finally, here’s something for the people saying Watt was over-drafted. Of course you never know. There are no guarantees. Myles Garrett, the Browns’ first pick at No. 1 overall, the guy whose NFL rating of 7.8 (out of 10) was almost a full point higher than the next best rating (6.8) could injure something or get a bunch of concussions or get hit by a bus or just, for some bizarre reason, not play very well in the NFL. I’m not wishing anything bad on him, just stating the facts. Draft picks, even seemingly safe ones, don’t always work out, for a myriad of reasons. So I’m hardly guaranteeing that Watt will go down as one of the great outside linebackers in a Steelers history which is chalk-full of them. But draft evaluations are highly subjective and highly fallible. Here’s a demonstration: