Summary: Being the younger brother of an NFL All-Pro can create some high expectations for a college football player. Similar to his older brother J.J., T.J. Watt was a late bloomer in college as didn't do much prior to the 2016 season. The junior broke out in 2016 though, recording 63 tackles with 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, four passes batted and two forced fumbles. He was a dynamic edge rusher for the Badgers. Not only was Watt a dangerous pass-rusher, he set a tough edge in the ground game and did a good job of defending against the Big Ten's rushing offenses.
Watt could end up being a Pro-Bowl edge rusher in a 3-4 defense. He has speed, active hands to fight off blocks, and functional strength. Watt has a great motor and is relentless. Sound familiar? Like his older brother J.J., T.J. looked like he was just scratching the surface of his potential at Wisconsin as he brings a ton of upside to the NFL. T.J. Watt gives a good second effort and is able to bend or cut around defenders. He does a really nice job of slapping down blockers hands to get free of them. He has the quickness to go around the corner and will become even better as he learns more pass-rushing moves.
In the ground game, Watt was really tough at setting the edge for Wisconsin last year. Often he was strong in the ground game to hold his ground and get off blocks. Watt also would fire into the backfield to disrupt perimeter runs, and on plays where he went unblocked by design, Watt showed the quickness to get to the running back from the backside. Watt should continue to get better in the NFL, and I think he will be an asset as a run defender in a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker.
Watt is not a burner off the edge with explosive speed and twitchy athleticism, but he is a hard charger with instincts. Watt is a physical defender who sets the tone for his defense. It wouldn't be surprising if Watt blooms late and is a faster, more explosive player in a few years.
For the NFL, Watt is a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. That would be the best scheme for Watt as a pro. In a 4-3 defense, he could be a part-time defensive end and Sam (strongside) linebacker to start out his career, but in time, he should be able to add enough weight to be a base defensive end.
Watt is on the bubble between the first and second round in the 2017 NFL Draft. If he doesn't go late in the first round, he should go early in the second round.
Player Comparison: Connor Barwin. Watt reminds me of Barwin when he was at his best for the Texans and Eagles. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in one season with Houston and 14.5 in his second year with the Eagles. Barwin (6-4, 264) and Watt are similar size, too. In time, Watt's playing weight will probably be closer to Barwin's. Barwin was a second-round pick by the Texans in 2009, and Watt shouldn't go any lower than Round 2 in the 2017 NFL Draft. I think Watt could be a better version of Barwin in the NFL.
NFL Matches: Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New York Jets, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Washington
There are a lot of potential fits for Watt in the first or second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Among the playoff teams, Watt could have a few landing spots. The Lions could use defensive line help. Watt could upgrade their edge rush across from Ziggy Ansah. Miami could use a young edge rusher after cutting Mario Williams, which left the team with an aging Cameron Wake. Atlanta needs an edge rusher to go on the other side from Vic Beasley.
Early in the second round, there are a few landing spots for Watt. San Francisco needs an edge rusher for its defense. Watt could be the 49ers' Leo rush linebacker. The Jets could use an edge rusher. Cincinnati might be a fit. The Bengals need a rusher opposite Carlos Dunlap as Michael Johnson is a limited player.
The Saints have to upgrade their defense and improve their pass defense. They need an edge rusher across from Cam Jordan. and it sounds like their preference is add a pass-rusher in Round 1 with secondary help to follow. If that changes, Watt could be in play for New Orleans with the 32nd-overall pick or with its second-round pick.
Indianapolis needs help all over its defense, and Watt would be an instant upgrade. John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are more complementary pass-rushers, but Watt would give the Colts a lead dog.
The Ravens need more pass rush after cutting Elvis Dumervil. Watt would make sense for Baltimore.
The Redskins want to get younger and more athletic up front. Watt would be able to play rush linebacker across from Ryan Kerrigan.