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T.J. Watt’s fit in Steelers’ defense as an edge defender

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping T.J. Watt will make an immediate impact, but how does he fit in the team’s scheme?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At Wisconsin, T.J. Watt started his career as a tight end, then moved to line backer before his 2015 season. Due to knee injuries, he did not get significant playing time until the 2016 season.

In just one season starting, Watt proved he is an every down player and he can start day one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At 6’4” and 252 pounds, Watt is a bit of a tweener for the position, but he tested well in pretty much every single drill at the combine. Also, he has some of the best football instincts I’ve scouted in this draft class.

Watt aggressively pursues run and has a good feel for the type of plays that offenses are trying to execute. He can maintain the edge as a run defender, blitz as an inside linebacker, has the range to chase plays sideline to sideline, and also has the hips to play in coverage as well.

My one big worry as a pass rusher is that a good portion of his sacks and pressures were purely opportunity-based. He excelled in everything he was asked to do in college, but definitely needs more pass rush moves to be successful in the NFL.

The Steelers run a mixture of 3-4 principles and 4-2 Over fronts when the offense is in “11 personnel” or three wide receiver sets. In both of these formations, they actually have their edge rushers stand in a two-point stance for a good percentage of the snaps. This is where I see Watt lining up. Additionally, if they ever need an inside linebacker, I believe he could excel at the position as well.

For his pro comparison, I think Connor Barwin is a very similar player. They both had limited experience coming out of school and both needed to learn better pass rush techniques. Neither has elite speed, but they play with effort to make up for it.

Overall, Watt has a very high floor as an edge defender. His great instincts and his hand usage should make him a good pro as long as he avoids injuries in the NFL.