When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected T.J. Watt in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the criticisms immediately started swirling. Whether it was about his size, lack of experience or overall pedigree...many felt he wasn’t worthy of a first-round designation.
Throughout the first 10 games of his rookie season, Watt has proven almost all doubters wrong with his play on the field. His athleticism pops off the screen, but the key word in the previous sentence is “almost” when referring to all the doubters of T.J. Watt.
What you hear the most from fans is how he isn’t able to “set the edge” in run support. Let me take a quick aside and explain this to readers who don’t know what this term means. Setting the edge is when an edge rusher notices a run play and is able to stand up his blocker (could be a tackle or tight end) and force the ball carrier to the inside while not getting pushed up or back to leave a gaping lane for a big gain.
While there have been times when Watt hasn’t been successful in setting the edge, Pro Football Focus (PFF) has debunked this theory with a pretty simple statistic.
Linebacker T.J. Watt has a 9.7 percent run stop percentage. The only edge defender with a better run stop percentage through ten weeks of their rookie season over the last five years was Khalil Mack.
Any comparison to Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year winner, is a good one. This isn’t to suggest Watt is a perfect player who doesn’t need to hone his craft. Rather, it simply suggests he’s much further along than many, myself included, thought he would be in his first professional season.
Watt has tallied 33 combined tackles, four sacks, three tackles for losses, one interception, five pass defenses and a blocked field-goal attempt during his nine games of action this season (Watt missed one game due to a groin injury).
There are some who will always be critical of Watt, for whatever reason, but fans should also realize this player has the capabilities of being truly special. So far, he’s everything other outside linebackers of the recent past have failed to be — a very good all-around player.
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