At some point, we will finally reach the day when Commissioner Roger Goodell officially opens the 2017 NFL Draft. Until that time occurs, there is plenty of pre-draft content to inform the masses.
In Atlanta, the LEO position in the 4-3 Under scheme is pretty important. It is arguably the top pure pass rusher on the team. Basically, the LEO spot is a hybrid skill set. Currently, linebacker Brooks Reed is the team’s primary LEO. While he did come on strong late this past season, he’s had two total sacks in two seasons as a Falcon. It is legitimately possible that Reed is a pre-June 1st release this offseason. If he is, is there someone in the draft that can be an upgrade at the key position?
T.J Watt Scouting Report
Weight: 252 lbs
Strengths: Besides being a younger brother of one of the top defensive players in the league, Watt earned second team All-American and first team All-Big Ten honors this past season. Watt totaled 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2016 as one of the top defenders in all of college football. When viewing his tape, Watt portrays infectious effort when rushing the passer. He came in second in the linebacker group in the three-cone drill at the Combine at 6.79 seconds. He also tied for first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.13 seconds as well as the broad jump at 10’8”. All three drills were indications of Watt’s sneaky good athleticism.
In this GIF, Watt rushes from a stand-up position against the left tackle. His quick burst allows him to attack the hands of the tackle which prevents the tackle from gaining leverage and throws him off balance. Watt finishes what he started with a clean sack.
Watt is very reliable in run defense and has shown us ability on several plsy where he pursues run plays from the backside and makes tackles for loss or minimal gains. One of his underlying strengths is his ability to actively utilize his hands within his technique. He is also underrated in the stack-and-shed department and maintains eyesight on the ball carrier at all times. You can tell that Watt will be a hard worker on the field and off. Someone that Quinn will absolutely love in a Falcons uniform.
In this GIF, Watt takes on the blocker head-on, absorbs the contact, and completes the play with a solid tackle while still entangled with the blocker.
Weaknesses: While Watt is a decent athlete, he will never be in the confused as a top-of-the line athlete. His overall power at the point of attack needs development. He only has one good season (2016) of considerable work at the collegiate level. So evaluating Watt has only a sample size to go off of. Watt’s footwork is also adequate and must improve at the next level also. During his entire collegiate career, Watt has also accumulated three knee injuries. It’s understandable for a team or the Falcons to be weary of a pass rusher with that amount of knee injuries before reaching the NFL level. In coverage, Watt shows stiffness. It’s hard to determine if his ability in coverage will ever improve or just be an indication that Watt is not a fluid prospect.
Conclusion: The Falcons can go a variety of routes in the NFL Draft. Granted, defensive end is arguably the biggest need on the team and LEO is not a necessary need as well. However, it would not hurt the team at all to add a skill set such as Watt’s and waive goodbye to Reed and his contract.
Watt has a nose for the quarterback. He won’t beat you with pure speed. He won’t overpower blockers. What he will do is simple. He will work to bring down the ball carrier until the whistle blows.
There are slight similarities between Watt and Reed. With work and focus, Watt can be exactly what the Falcons have been looking for in recent years at the LEO position. Watt has earned comparisons to Green Bay’s Clay Matthews. In actuality, it fits.
Watt has also been tapped as a possible 31st overall selection for the Falcons. Again, the Falcons may go in several different directions in the draft. If Watt is taken by Atlanta in the first, I may not be completely content with his draft placement but I will enjoy having his presence on the Falcons defense. Don’t be surprised if Watt brings his talents to Atlanta, possibly the first or second round. If he does, he gives the defense a true weapon at LEO and opens up a lot for the Falcons defense.