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Breaking down the Steelers FB Derek Watt, Part 3: Offense

Derek Watt’s skillset on offense and how he could change the Steelers offense.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Part 1 of this series talked about Derek Watt covering kicks and punts, part 2 covered his play on kick and punt returns. Now it’s time to look at Derek Watt on offense. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.

Running the Ball

In his 4 year career Derek Watt has 19 rushes, and only 2 have gained more than 3 yards. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value. Of those 19 runs, 13 have been in 1 yard situations, either on the goal line, or 3rd/4th down and 1 to go. Derek Watt has converted 10 of those 13 attempts, failing on exactly one each of the last three years. In 2019 he converted 6 of his 7 attempts, here’s the one that didn’t work.

Derek Watt is the FB on this play.

The line gets driven back, and when he tries to bounce it to his left he has three defenders on him. There’s no converting on that play.

Here’s a better one, Derek Watt is the FB here, hidden at the start by the RB.

That’s Derek Watt’s primary value as a RB, he finds the right hole to gain a few yards and hits it. That is valuable.

In 2019 the Steelers converted 8 of their 15 one yard situation runs. Benny Snell was 5-1, QB sneaks were 3-0, and James Conner (0-3), Jaylen Samuels (0-1) and Terrell Edmunds (0-2) couldn’t convert a single one.

Here’s what it looks like when a RB doesn’t see the quick yards on a third and 1 run. James Conner is the RB.

I don’t have words for that, it frustrates me so much. James Conner is a great guy, and a very good RB, he breaks big plays and he’s a beast as a receiving back. But he infuriates me on plays where he gives up a few easy yards to try and get more, only to lose yards. In this case, he runs into a pile of bodies and sends the punt team to the field. To be fair, Conner was much better in 2018, when he had a FB. Derek Watt could be a key to James Conner being a better short yardage back in 2020.

Compare Derek Watt to the man he replaced, Roosevelt Nix. Nix had 3 one yard situation carries in his career, he scored a TD on a play where the OL opened a big hole and he fell through it, and failed to convert on a third and 1 and a 4th and 1 run, on both he looked heavy footed and easy to bring down. Derek Watt isn’t easy to bring down. Watt is the FB (this is from 2018).

Find the quick hole, put your head down and run through it as hard as you can. That’s Derek Watt’s run style, and if he can replicate his success on short yardage runs for the Steelers, he’ll be a fan favorite pretty quickly.


The NFL is a passing league, they have changed a lot of rules to make sure that is the case, and any FB that is going to get decent snaps on offense is going to have to contribute to the passing offense. Derek Watt isn’t going to be a major weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, but he can catch the ball.

Watt has been targeted only 13 times in his career, with 10 catches and 152 yards. That yards per target of 11.7 is impressive, and watching film I think the Chargers should have used him more.

Derek Watt is the FB

Here the defense doesn’t view Watt as a real threat and leave him open for far too long, eventually Philip Rivers settles for the short pass and Watt makes a very nice catch on the sideline.

It’s rare that Watt ran routes straight up, most of the time he starts by helping to sell a play-action fake or chipping a defender.

Here Watt sells the run, and then when the LBs bail back to cover, he beats his LB. Unfortunately the throw is at his shins, and though he can get hands on it, he fails to bring it in. He isn’t a great receiver, he’s not going to make the tough catches, but here you see how he can get open against a LB, and that is important.

On this next play, Watt helps sell a fake, chips an edge rusher, and then breaks a tackle for a big gain. Derek Watt is the back to the left side of Philip Rivers.

I love this play. from the design of the pulling guard picking up the DE, Watt’s really good chip on that end, a good job leaking out and then Derek Watt doing exactly what Derek Watt does, run hard and look to make contact. He even drew a penalty on this play for the helmet to helmet hit from the DB at the end. He sided with the defender after the game, because that’s the kind of player he is. But the best part? This is a play-action pass out of a shotgun formation. You know, the kind of play-action pass Randy Fichtner might actually call.

Using Derek Watt on the Steelers offense

K.T.Smith(chisap) made a great post about the Steelers offense from 2018 and showed how the Steelers used FBs and TEs creatively. It’s a great read and I agree with him, making this part a lot easier. If you want to see what the Steelers could look to do with Derek Watt and Eric Ebron give it a read, or re-read it, it’s worth it.

I want to add to it with some film of how the Chargers used Derek Watt outside of just lining up at the traditional FB spot. Let’s start with the two plays that followed that 8-yard run from 2018.

Watt starts the play outside, he is in motion to start this clip.

The key to this run is the LB on the left, he follows Derek Watt and the Chargers run right at the spot he was. That LB ends up making the tackle, just 17 yards downfield. One thing that frustrated me watching film of Watt on offense is how often the Chargers had Watt in for one play and then took him back out. Derek Watt is dangerous when he’s ignored, and you can play off of that on offense, constantly forcing LBs to gamble on whether they should pay attention to Derek Watt or not, and pulling defenders out of the box, leaving an empty hole for the RB is a big boost to your offense.

The third play of this series, Derek Watt (#34) is on the right side, playing H-Back (off the line, inside the TE).

That’s Derek Watt blocking new Baltimore Raven Derek Wolfe, a 3-4 DE. Watt does well playing from the H-Back position, especially as a blocker. Here they trust Watt to handle a much bigger player and the OL gets up-field onto the Broncos LBs enough that they can’t get outside fast enough to stop the RB from turning the corner.

You have probably heard that Watt played a bit of TE in an emergency situation for the Chargers last season, and he was lined up as the TE for one play where he blocked a safety, but he is much better in this position, and they used him there a good bit.

Watt is on the right, playing H-Back again.

Here he comes across the formation and blocks the edge. You can see the double team by the tackle and guard on the left and Watt stones the edge to create a beautiful lane for the runner. Unfortunately the runner is impatient and runs the other way right before the block gets there. Like so many, many other plays I watch, I just shake my head and say “If that’s Le’Veon Bell it’s a TD.” But that’s not the point, the Chargers use motion to pull all the players to the right side, and send Watt left, it’s a great way to reverse the numbers really quick, esp. with a FB that can block bigger players reliably.

Last play. I want to show you this formation first though, because of the potential it could hold for the Steelers in 2020.

This is 12 personnel, TE, FB, RB. Derek Watt is on the outside to the left of the screen, Hunter Henry is on the line with a WR inside, and Keenan Allen lined up in the TE spot on the right.

Look at this formation and imagine James Conner in the backfield, Derek Watt to the outside left, Eric Ebron on the line, James Washington inside him, and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the right side.

That’s a crazy formation you can run out of, with 2 very good blocking WRs along with a TE and FB, but you also have a lot of receiving weapons, and the other team has to figure out who covers whom. But this play needs two main things in order to work. First, that FB has to be a threat to run an actual route, not even a good one, just a legit route, and second, the TE has to be a solid blocker. Otherwise you take all the promise this formation looks to hold, and end up with something like this.

Look at the LBs, at the start they have no clue what is going on. That’s usually a good thing, except the TE gets driven back, forcing the pulling guard backwards and the RB ends up in front of his blocker. Watt gets pulled back in, because every single time the Chargers lined him up outside they motioned him back inside, which made it easier for the defense to figure out their roles.

So while there is incredible potential for the offense to do interesting things with Eric Ebron and Derek Watt, it all falls apart if the players can’t handle the job. And that is what remains to be seen.