With the 30th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Steelers did what many expected and spent their choice on an edge rusher, Wisconsin OLB T.J. Watt. As it turns out, the Steelers have had their eye on Watt since last fall, when they first saw the potential in the converted tight end. In his first season as an outside linebacker, Watt collected 15.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and was named first-team all-Big Ten. His inexperience has left many people thinking that Watt was picked 15 to 20 spots early, but in reality he went about where he should have, at least that is how Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin feel.
Perhaps Watt was destined to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. At the end of last season, Badger head coach Paul Chryst called up Kevin Colbert to ask him a favor, to provide Chryst with an estimation on where T.J. Watt would likely go in the draft. After some film study and other research, Colbert informed Chryst that Watt was in fact a first rounder. Watt has all the pre-requisite tools for a pass rusher, size, speed, intensity, and a non-stop motor. Displaying advanced skills when using his hands to fight off blockers, and a good feel for putting together combinations of moves to get to the quarterback, the biggest question facing Watt is his abilty to drop into coverage.
Being a former tight end should help Watt in developing his coverage skills. His familiarity with running routes should help him recognize those routes in coverage, while his hands give him above average ball skills for an outside linebacker. His 4.6 40 time will allow him to keep up in coverage, and his hand skills should help him fight for positioning to make plays on the ball. Picked as much for the player that Watt will likely be in the future, he was brought in for what he can provide now, which is an explosive pass rush born from a non-stop motor and a Kevin Greene-like intensity.
With the selection of T.J. Watt, the Steelers filled one of their biggest needs with a dynamic talent who will only get better with experience. Extremely competitive, Watt’s goal is to separate himself from his NFL siblings, J.J. and Derek, and make a name for himself. More importantly, the Steelers got themselves a high character guy with a professional workout regimen, whose total existence revolves around football. T.J. Watt may not be the guy you wanted, but he is the guy this defense needs.