Prospect Profile: LB T.J. Watt

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Leading up to the 2017 NFL draft, Dolphins.com will be profiling prospects who have been mentioned in national mock drafts as potential choices for the 22nd overall selection.

Being the younger brother of arguably the best defensive player in the NFL has both its advantages and its drawbacks, but T.J. Watt has no issue ever being compared to J.J.

“Yeah he’s one of the best players to ever do it, why not take that comparison?” Watt said at the 2017 scouting combine. “The No. 1 thing I love about my brother’s play is how he does it. He’s 100 percent all out every single play. You’re not going to catch him loafing. He’s a game-changer. That’s how I want to be viewed.”

T.J. Watt actually is the third Watt brother to enter the NFL in recent years, following J.J. and Derek.

J.J. was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft and Derek, a fullback, was a sixth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers last year. T.J. likely played his way into the first round after a tremendous 2016 season as an outside linebacker at the University of Wisconsin.

Watt’s breakout season was all the more remarkable because it was his first as a full-time starter and it came after he missed the 2014 season with a knee injury and after he began his college career as a tight end.

“I”m only scratching the surface,” Watt said. “I’ve only played defense for 18 or 20 months. If I can do all the things I did this last year, what can I do when I’m under the tutelage of an NFL coach? … The hardest thing for me was the steep learning curve, playing offense most of my life. Reacting to different plays and dropping into coverage was new to me, but at this point in my game I’m pretty good at everything I do.”

Watt earned second-team All-American honors last season after recording 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

In terms of size and style, the one NFL player used as a comparison for T.J. Watt most often is Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers, not J.J. Watt. But T.J. does have a similar trait as his brother: a tireless work ethic.

“I know it’s a cliché, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop,” T.J. said. “I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give the team that takes me everything I have.”

Given his family name, T.J. understands very well he might often be viewed differently than other players, but it’s something he’s grown accustomed to.

“Early on when J.J. first started blowing up, I didn’t know how to handle it, but now definitely I love it,” he said. “My brother is the best defensive player to ever play the game, in my opinion. Obviously I’m biased. When you play the sport of football and you have the person as your role model a phone call, a text away, it’s special. And he does it so well and so right. I’m just trying to replicate what he does.”

Here was Lance Zierlein’s scouting report for Watt on NFL.com:

Strengths: Produced at high-end level with just one season of full-time football. Has desired length for the edge with room to accommodate more size. Attacks blockers with early arm extension and utilizes push-pull technique to upset their balance as his pet move against run and pass. Outstanding hand play in his game. Disruptive as first man in on twists. Always ready to leap into passing lane and deflect the throw. Strikes fast and early to create leverage points. Rarely has helmet involved in play and is constantly searching for the ball. Understands art of quick disengagements and can flatten out against outside run. Has good agility to clear trash near his feet and pursue the ball. Functional in space when asked to cover. Can get skinny when shooting gaps and has decisiveness and pursuit quickness to crash down the line and close-out cutback lanes. Consistent, wrap-up finisher as tackler.

Weaknesses: Not overly twitched-up as an athlete. Short strider who lacks explosion out of stance and up the field to bend the edge as a pass rusher. Foot quickness is average and needs to win with technique and great hand play. Won’t generate enough acceleration to crank up speed-to-power rush with consistency. Plays with a narrow base. Needs to play with more consistent bend to play through redirection by offensive line. Will have to add power in his base to hold point of attack against tackles. Pass rush menu will need more options against NFL tackles.

NFL comparison: Paul Kruger

Bottom line: A long-limbed effort rusher who posted impressive numbers against the run and pass in just one year as a starter. He is a tireless worker who pursues from snap to whistle and his brother, J.J., will be a tremendous resource for technique and pass-rush plan. While he is unlikely to win a race to the edge, he’s a plus run defender who can get to the quarterback with plus hand work and relentless effort.

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