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ESPN’s Mel Kiper gives praise to T.J. Watt, and how he was wrong about the Steelers top pick

Many experts weren’t high on T.J. Watt as a first round pick, and many of them are eating their words now...

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2017 NFL Draft approached, many draft experts were split on T.J. Watt. The Wisconsin product was raw, but tested out of this world at the NFL Scouting Combine, yet many thought he wasn’t big enough to be a every down 3-4 outside linebacker, especially in his rookie season.

One of those people who had some doubts about Watt was ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. The man everyone loves to hate had Watt as a 2nd Round draft pick on his final Big Board before the draft, and most recently published an article updating who has impressed him the most so far in the NFL season.

It should be noted this article was published just before Week 3, but since Watt didn’t play vs. the Chicago Bears due to a groin injury, the information remains pertinent. How did he come up with these rookie rankings? Here is what he said about the process:

Here's my first update of the top rookies in the NFL. This one goes through Week 2, and I'm including another group of guys who just missed the list at the bottom. I've also included the rankings of where each player landed on my final top 300 prospects list before the 2017 draft. There are already some changes from my preseason All-Rookie team.

With the rules out of the way, here is how he came to his final conclusions:

Here are the parameters (same as always):

- This is a measure for all games this season, not just last week.

- Total snap count matters. Staying on the field is a measure of value.

- Positional value matters, but overall performance and impact on the team matter more.

- Relative value matters. I ask: Would this player be a starter on most teams or on a good team?

Kiper had Watt listed as the 2nd best rookie in the NFL, at that point in the season, and here was just what he had to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ prized draft pick throughout the early portions of the 2017 regular season.

2. T.J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Final 2017 Big Board rank: 48

The younger Watt brother missed most of the Steelers' Week 2 win over the Vikings, but he's on this list because of what he did in the season opener against the Browns. With two sacks and an interception, he was incredibly disruptive. I noted before the draft that Watt likely would start out as a situational pass-rusher in a 3-4 defense, but he's proving tough to keep off the field. In fact, veteran James Harrison has played only three total snaps in two games. Watt is dealing with a groin injury, but he could play this week.


Watt has done more than impress fans and coaches since he walked into the team’s practice facility, and considering I had my doubts about the pick on draft night, he has silenced those doubts faster than anyone could imagine.

How much has he impressed the vast Steelers fan base? When he was on the field, prior to leaving with the aforementioned groin injury, no one was clamoring to see James Harrison back on the field, because Watt was just that dominant.

Now, the Steelers prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, and Watt is reportedly close to returning to the lineup. They could use their talented rookie on the field as the team tries to tackle first place in the AFC north heading into Week 5.

If you were wondering which rookies made the Top 10 on Kiper’s list, you can find them below:

Top 10:

1. Kareem Hunt
2. T.J. Watt
3. Marshon Lattimore
4. Dalvin Cook
5. Tre’Davious White
6. Deatrich Wise
7. Garrett Bolles
8. Haason Reddick
9. Chris Carson
10. Jarrad Davis