Rookie Spotlight: T.J. Watt Tackles High Expectations With Steel Curtain Defense

By Curt Macysyn

Name: T.J Watt
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 252 lbs.
Position: Outside Linebacker
School: Wisconsin
Draft Pick: 30th overall in First Round

Even the most ardent detractor has to concede that the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing something right. What other NFL team can boast that they have had only three head coaches over the past 48 seasons?

Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll have won Lombardi Trophies in the Steel City, which is certainly a testament to their coaching prowess. Another attribute that gets lost in the discussion of the Steelers’ year-in, year-out consistency is player acquisition. More specifically, Pittsburgh, more often than not, crushes the NFL Draft.

So when folks questioned the selection of Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first-round, the criticism has to be taken with a large grain of salt. After all, the list of Steeler first-round draft picks in the 2000s reads like a Pro Bowl roster. Names like Burress, Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Holmes, Timmons, Pouncey and DeCastro are proof positive that the Steelers’ front office knows what it’s doing.

From that vantage point, T.J. Watt has high standards to fulfill. And being the younger brother of a three-time NFL defensive-player-of-the-year means he’s expected to carry the legacy of the “family” business as well.

For Trent Jordan (T.J.) Watt, comparisons are going to be inevitable, so going to a team that doesn’t need him to be an impact player right away should be helpful to his development. Like brother J.J., T.J. started his college football career as a tight end. After a knee injury wiped out his 2014 college season, Watt was asked by Badgers’ coach Paul Chryst to switch to linebacker in 2015.

Initially, Watt scuffled with the position change. In eight games, he had a mere seven tackles and no quarterback sacks in 2015. Whatever happened in between the 2015 and 2016 seasons was transformational. In 14 games, Watt accumulated 63 tackles and 11.5 quarterback sacks, as he was named a first-team All-Big Ten performer. Watt was also honored as a second team All-American after the 2016 season.

Clearly, the younger Watt was heading in the right direction, but is he ready for the NFL?

This season, Watt currently sits behind ageless James Harrison on the Steelers’ depth chart. In training camp, he will be able to absorb knowledge from Harrison, as well as Pittsburgh linebackers coach Joey Porter. And with stars like Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree already patrolling the second level, Watt can transition into a starting role.

That’s not to say that Watt will be satisfied sitting the bench.

Watt will have to fight high expectations in Pittsburgh, as well as routine comparisons to his brother. But don’t expect T.J. Watt to be anything close to a clone of J.J. While they may play a similar role on their respective defenses, the duo’s skill-set varies. For starters, T.J. appears to be less a freak of nature than his brother. Even so, there remains a lot to like about the younger Watt.

According to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, “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.”

If it all goes according to plan, it will only be a short time before we have to distinguish between T.J. and J.J. in Pro Bowl voting.

Curt Macysyn is a freelance writer and broadcaster covering baseball, football, basketball, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS Local, Sports Illustrated and PA NJ Radio. He also is a certified high school baseball umpire. Find him on Twitter: @CurtMac23

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