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2017 NFL Draft Grades: Steelers 1st round pick LB T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers kept tradition going by selecting another LB in the first round. Just what do I think of the pick?

Big Ten Championship - Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

I did not know whether T.J. Watt would be there by the time the Steelers were on the board, but the fact he was is a testament to the teams that picked QBs high, and teams that reached in the first round.

I was indeed pleased with the pick.

T.J. Watt was the best edge defender left on my board and was 19th overall on my board. That is a +11 value considering they got him with the 30th pick. I won’t lie, I was shocked to see Green Bay trade out of the first round, as well as to see Takk McKinnley go to the Atlanta Falcons in front of him, but it worked for the best.

What kind of player are the Steelers getting though? A relentless, tireless worker with great athletic upside.

As illustrated by his mockdraftables, Watt is an elite athlete at the position and clearly has explosion, as you can see that he was in the 95th and 82nd percentile in the broad jump and vertical. That is key because great pass rushers have that explosion in their step coming off the edge.

It wasn’t always easy to see with Watt on tape though. A lot of that is due to him being asked to make tackle reads, drop into coverage and move around from snap to snap. It was there in spurts/flashes but you didn’t really know for sure until the combine all but confirmed it.

Watt also tested as a very flexible and fluid athlete, as demonstrated by his 3 cone and 20 yard shuttle results. The 3 cone drill is something that I believe measures hip flexibility and often it seems to correlate. The 20 yard shuttle is often reflective of short area quickness and ankle flexion. Having both is something that is very ideal and is normally only found in pass rushers that usually go in the top 10.

That flexibility was something you would see on tape but he wouldn’t harness it to his full capability. A lot of times that was due to him trying to use a long arm stab around the edge, rather than utilizing a move that would make more sense like a rip move.

He learned as the season went on and started to utilize that rip move to bend around the edge, as shown by the Northwestern, Penn State and Western Michigan game. Occasionally, I saw him flash the ability to dip underneath tackles when I saw him playing the run.

See the moves I’m mentioning though? You’d think a player like him, who’s only played 1 year that he wouldn’t have such good technique. I also didn’t even mention how good he is when it comes to using push pull moves and playing through the pads with moves like the snatch/sling. I’ve heard words like “raw” to describe him and I honestly don’t agree.

“Inexperienced but not raw” is how Mike Tomlin described him and that makes a lot of sense to me. He’s a player who flashes very good hand usage and technique. He’s got a bit of shock with those hands too (probably due to them being 11 inch hands).

Are his past knee injuries a concern? I’d say yes, but guessing based off the type of worker Watt is, he has probably changed his body a lot since then. A lot of times this can help add durability as a player takes care of their body, but you never know sometimes.

Now time for the grade:

Overall Grade: A -

He’s a high upside pass rusher who’s only just beginning to tap his potential. His injuries are a concern, but it’s rare to get a pass rusher this late in the draft with the upside Watt possesses. He’s got the ability to drop into coverage effectively and move around the formation. A lot of what he did at Wisconsin is what Pittsburgh asks their LBs to do.

T.J. Watt should feel right at home in Pittsburgh.