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Hello Giants fans! We're less than a month away from the NFL Draft, which as you all know is one of my favorite times of the year (edges out Christmas, doesn't quite beat opening day). This year I've been unable to crank out a lot of Draft-based articles the way I'd like to, but starting my career and becoming an adult has been labeled the priority. Until now. So allow me to crack my knuckles and offer my unsolicited opinion on a few NFL prospects.
The way I'm going to set up my articles this year will be pretty simple, mostly in the form of a Prospect Profile, but with some differences since Chris has already provided excellent draft coverage of a lot of prospects already. In this mini-series, I'm going to pick a few of my draft crushes and explain why I would draft a certain player. This is based off of what my vision for the team would be, not what I think the Giants will do. With that being said, let me start with a guy who has slowly been growing on me since I truly sat down and watched his tape. Allow me to introduce TJ Watt, DE/OLB for the Wisconsin Badgers.
As I'm sure many of you know, T.J. Watt is the little brother of NFL phenom J.J. Watt. Good genes huh? However a little more obscure of a fact is that the Badgers originally brought the younger Watt in to play Tight End for their offense. It wasn't until his Redshirt Sophomore year that the Badgers coaching staff asked TJ to move to Outside Linebacker. The switch was the right call. His Junior year paid dividends for Wisconsin, Watt came up with 10.5 sacks, 59 tackles, 1 INT, and 1 FF. He was named Second Team All American by the Associated Press and was suddenly making waves among those who matter, the NFL Scouts.
However, skepticism did arise, a lot of folks leery about Watt being a flash in the pan. It's not always easy when your big brother is a superstar at the next level (see Manning, Eli). Some of those worries could be put to rest after a glance over the Combine numbers though. He was a top performer in almost every drill/workout that measures a player's explosiveness.
|40 Yard Dash||4.69s|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.13s|
|60 Yard Shuttle||11.2s|
|Bench Press||21 reps|
Not a horribly impressive 40 time or Bench Press, but both numbers were adequate, hovering around average for his position. However his 3 Cone, Vertical, and Broad Jumps are all numbers that just pop off the screen. They all speak to his ability to explode with his lower body, a trait that is required if you are going to rush the passer at the next level. The term "freak" gets thrown around a lot. I won't use it with Watt, but there is no denying that this guy is a serious athlete. Sometimes bloodlines don't translate into successful football players, but it's obvious that the Watt family can produce athletes at the very least. But that brings me to my next point. Who cares about athleticism if a player can't play at the next level? Well that brings us to the tape.
TJ Watt vs Michigan State (If anybody knows how to get this video to embed on this site that would be great. I've fought with this for two days and it's making me want to punch something)
What I Saw
The reason I chose Watt's performance versus Michigan State is because it allows me to highlight multiple facets of Watt's game.
The above gif (can't embed, just click on em) shows Watt screaming in off the edge for a TFL. Now this play does have Watt going untouched, but that's the beauty of a potential Watt pick. He can play that strong side backer position that will often go untouched when the play is away from his side. Watt has the speed to hunt that down from the back end. In the Giants 4-3, contain would likely not even be his forefront concern, seeing as how Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are both excellent run defenders than can string out a play.
This gets more into the meat and potatoes of how Watt can help out a run defense. As opposed to being a clean up player here, he's an edge setter, crashing in on the kickout blocker (#45), neutralizing him in the hole and creating a big scrum, leaving Running Back LJ Scott with nowhere to run. You'll see this fairly often if you watch Watt's tape, and it shows that he can play that selfless role of setting the edge and letting other players clean up the mess when he needs to do so. Fortunately this would be icing on the cake that is the Giants run defense.
This play shows that while not his strong suit, Watt is a decent flats/short range zone cover player. This lends to me believing he can play the position I want him at, which is as a pass rushing SAM. If he can drop five yards and be fairly comfortable in space on occasion, then it gives his defensive coordinator at the next level a decent amount of versatility. You don't want OC's to automatically know that Watt is going to rush the passer every snap he's on the field. If you have a predominately pass rushing SAM that can confuse QB's by faking the blitz and then dropping into a zone, you can call a lot more exotic looks with your defense. I mean watch the gif again. He puts his hands on the TE and takes a downhill step, but then quickly changes to a backpedal and is quick enough to be there to break up the pass. He's not a Cunningham, or even a Reddick, but Watt isn't pigeonholed into being an exclusively downhill player. This is important.
Here's the good stuff that gets every football fan rubbing their hands together whilst cackling with wicked glee. Watch Watt's hands fire off an excellent punch and then disengage perfectly all while maintaining perfect balance as he takes the shortest path to the QB to collect the sack. It's pretty text book, and it's what pass rushing is all about. A nice first step and good hands. Watt often displays good hand work when he pass rushes, it's fun to watch. Also look at the score of the game. At this point Wisconsin was pinning their ears back. This helps emphasize my point, which is that we should play this man as a pass rushing SAM Linebacker if he's on our roster. If he has the skill set to do this to Left Tackles in college, he can definitely do the same thing to NFL Tight Ends. Jason Pierre-Paul or Olivier Vernon will be covering up the Tackle and giving them a hell of a battle, so the Offensive Coordinator has to pick their poison. Either block the pass rushing SAM with a TE/RB, which gives Watt the clear advantage, give Watt a free release and hope that the dump off option opens up quick enough before Watt smears the QB, or slide protection and try to get the Tackle out in front of Watt while hoping the inside protection can keep JPP/OV at bay.
No sack here, but a nice pressure that caused a throw away. The Michigan State Quarterback is forced out of the pocket due to Watt's excellent counter move. Nice first step, excellent hands, and a quick step to the inside. Once again, it's the hands that are key. Watt punches the Right Tackle right in the chest plate, extends his arms, and knocks the Tackle off balance enough to create a nice gap for him to dive into. He may even get the sack if he pays no attention to the Right Guard who comes back to Watt when he sees him blow by the Tackle. Just a nice, pressure creating play that you want to show your high school DE's. Pad level low, feet underneath you, punch with your hands, get extension, and then disengage and get your butt to the QB.
When picking 23rd overall, you are going to have a hard time finding perfect prospects. You either have guys with red flags of the character/injury variety, guys with low athleticism but high production, or guys with high athleticism but limited production. There are other reasons guys fall, but those are your basic categories. TJ Watt's red flags are his two knee injuries, one to each knee. They happened in back to back years, 2014 and then 2015. 2016 was his healthy year, and his production was incredible.
When it comes to our other options, none of them stand out on tape as much as Watt does. Watt then showed us athleticism by performing extremely well in the explosion based exercises at the Combine. I truly, without a doubt, believe he's worth rolling the dice on. His knee injuries are concerning, but he's over a year removed from his last injury and showed no loss of athleticism since then. While it'd ideal to have a player that is a picture of health, you're just not going to find one as talented as Watt sitting at #23.
And that's the thing, Watt hasn't come close to touching his ceiling yet. He's going to get much better. He's new to being a pass rusher, and was still able to produce a double digit sack season the first time he stepped on the field in the Big 10. That's impressive. He's new to a position, but no scout would dare call him raw. His technique and ability to bypass Tackles is reminiscent of someone far more experienced at the position.
TJ Watt matches up perfectly with what the Giants were looking for if they wanted Leonard Floyd. He's a long athlete (both Watt and Floyd have 33 1/8" arms) with great explosion that can pass rush from a variety of stances and positions. If we truly wanted a pass rushing SAM that could also play a handful of snaps with their hands in the dirt, than Watt is our guy. I do believe the Giants want to make this position a defensive weapon that offenses fear. We've tried to implement that with Devon Kennard, with less success than we probably hoped for. TJ Watt an excellent fit for that role, and he comes from a family with a strong football pedigree. The knees are worrisome, but if I'm the GM they aren't worrisome enough. That is why I would fully support TJ Watt as our pick at #23.
Sorry it took forever for me to get this out, hopefully I can squeeze another one or two out before the draft. As always, PLEASE let me know what ya'll think, I love hearing your opinions and it's half the fun of doing these write-ups!
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Source : http://www.bigblueview.com/2017/4/11/15121190/an-in-depth-look-tj-watt