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T.J. Watt’s success should act as a cautionary tale about draft reactions, but it won’t

It’s not just the popular media personalities that put out horrible initial takes following a Steelers draft pick. We all do it, and we did it when Pittsburgh selected T.J. Watt in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Maybe we should stop doing that.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Not long after T.J. Watt won the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year award last Thursday, old Tweets began to surface from media personalities regarding their initial opinions shortly after Watt was selected 30th overall by the Steelers in the 2017 NFL Draft.

You see, it’s like a thing on social media now to collect “receipts” of past opinions made by the “haters” of the world and use those receipts to expose them when it turns out their old hot takes were just, well, freezing cold.

If you’re wondering what the old takes regarding Watt and his abilities were about, they mostly had to do with how underwhelming he was as a draft pick and that, if he wasn’t a Watt brother, he’d have been drafted much, much later than in the first round.

Looking back on these old takes, it’s now easy to make fun of these so-called experts.

Unfortunately for you, the fan, I too have saved receipts (actual receipts that are in my desk drawer), and they may even expose you and so many of the other so-called draft experts (of the amateur variety) who weren’t exactly thrilled with the selection of Watt. I can recall the aftermath on the night of the 2017 NFL Draft and the concerns about Watt’s lack of bend and how that would limit his ability to be an effective pass-rusher as an outside linebacker at the NFL level. Speaking of outside linebacker, that wasn’t Watt’s original position when he was recruited to play at Wisconsin--he was a tight end--and he was asked to switch positions after he suffered a knee injury that hindered the early years of his college career. Watt wound up playing in only 22 collegiate games before deciding to turn pro prior to his senior season. In fact, Watt only had one truly impressive campaign before turning pro. That was in 2016 when he recorded 11.5 sacks and received First-Team All-Big Ten honors.

Coming off of an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, many were upset that the Steelers didn’t do more to find a truly impactful player in the 2017 NFL Draft.

I’m not hating on those who felt and expressed all of their concerns. To echo some of those points, Watt had little collegiate experience as an outside linebacker. Besides, considering his family bloodlines and the success of his older brother, J.J. Watt, shouldn’t the younger Watt have been drafted well before the 30th pick?

Hindsight being 20/20 and all, don’t you (you know who you are) feel kind of silly for those concerns now that Watt is on pace to be the greatest sack collector in the history of the NFL if he keeps this up for another 10 years?

You don’t? You should. We all should feel silly for many of our pre and post-draft online reactions because they are often so out there and crazy.

For example, what’s with this reaction: “GOD, NO!"? And that’s not only a response to a draft pick, it’s something I often see following a mock draft pick—and not even a mock draft pick but an article about a mock draft pick. And those reactions to actual Steelers draft picks—“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”—it’s like, did you want Creed Humphrey, or did Tony Soprano just find you 10 years after you went into the witness protection program?

The bottom line is this, no matter what direction the Steelers go in in the upcoming draft, the actual pick will likely garner a reaction that’s barely over 50-percent positive. But that doesn’t mean the pick will turn out to be an awful one. He could turn into the next T.J. Watt or even the next Dan Marino.

With that in mind, below is famed sportswriter, Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman’s reaction to the Dolphins’ selection of Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft:

“I don’t understand it.”

The late, great Dr. Z went on to elaborate and gave one of the most infamous negative reactions about a future Hall of Famer in the history of the draft.

My point? Knock it off...and that goes for the jumping for joy stuff, too.

A lot of us are wrong most of the time with our post-draft reactions—I thought Jarvis Jones would be a pick and plug player and that Le’Veon Bell was a wasted pick (and they were drafted one after the other in 2013)—but few of us have a profile high enough to be as exposed as the legendary Paul Zimmerman was for his initial opinion on Dan Marino.

Finally, I think it would have been funnier had Dr. Z looked into the ESPN camera and screamed, "NOOOOOO!"