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T.J. Watt Could Be Compelling Option in NFL Draft
March 23, 2017 04:30 PM | Andrew Hirsh
Over the last six years, J.J. Watt has established himself as one of the NFL's most dominant pass rushers. The family's middle brother, Derek, just wrapped up his rookie season as a Chargers fullback. Now, their youngest sibling, T.J., is slated to enter the league. And he could do so with the Falcons.

After turning heads as an outside linebacker, T.J. Watt decided to forego his senior year at Wisconsin to enter the 2017 draft. As a junior, the ex-Badger tallied 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He also returned an interception for a touchdown, forced two fumbles and recovered one loose ball.

Altogether, his stellar campaign earned him second-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Projected by analysts to go in the late first or early second round, he could be targeted by the Falcons at No. 31 overall. Daniel Jeremiah predicted that will happen in his latest mock.

"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," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote.

"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."

Watt's performance at the Scouting Combine boosted his stock significantly. He beat J.J. in the 40-yard dash, for one. His 6.79-second time in the three-cone drill ranked second among linebackers, and his 4.13-second shuttle time was the best at his position.

Overall, as Evan Western at SB Nation pointed out, his combine performance was similar (and slightly better) than Clay Matthews'. Here's a look at how his measurements and drill results stack up historically with other edge rushers.

Suffice to say, his oldest brother was impressed.

Watt's tape reveals the numbers he put up at Lucas Oil Stadium weren't accidents. At UW, he displayed impressive hand technique and aggressiveness when attacking tight ends and offensive tackles. His short-term quickness was often too much for Big Ten opponents to handle; his tackling, especially in the run game, was consistent.

And he might not be as big as J.J., but his 6-foot-4, 252-pound frame gave him the kind of length needed to deal with bigger lineman. That height should serve him well at the next level, especially if he continues to bulk up.

"Few players improved as much as Watt did from 2015 to 2016, and some evaluators believe he's just starting to scratch the surface of his potential," Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm said. "Sets a good, hard edge in the run game and packs some pop. Watt has massive hands and uses them well to disengage from blockers. He offers good play strength, excellent balance and can close on ballcarriers quickly.

"Work ethic, as you'd expect for someone with his last name, is top notch. His frame could carry another 15 pounds or more with ease; he's not even close to maxed out, strength-wise. Watt's athletic testing numbers at the NFL scouting combine were surprisingly good, even for his exceptional bloodlines."

Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Watt - his 2016 production, his family ties, his physical testing. But, as is the case with every prospect, there are reasons for concern.

One element that could work against Watt is his injury history. A damaged knee kept him out of the entire 2014 campaign; the following spring, he hurt his other knee and, as a result, had limited time to impress new coach Paul Chryst.

Moreover, he has only played 22 games as a linebacker. Watt enrolled at Wisconsin as a tight end and stayed there until he switched positions in 2015. This gives NFL clubs a relatively small sample size to evaluator.

Once he converted to defense, though, he looked like a natural fit - and like someone who fits Dan Quinn's mold as an athletic, versatile and coachable player with a lot of upside.

"Whether it's getting my eight-plus hours of sleep or staying hydrated or eating healthy, I'm constantly doing all the little things to give me an edge and I think it's just awesome that I finally got to see the results pay off on a big stage," Watt said in Indy. "I told these coaches, 'I know there's 300-some-odd other players here, but no one is doing the little things like I am.'"

"I'm only scratching the surface," he added. "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?"

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