Our final look at players of Cowboys interest stops in Madison, Wisconsin, where one J.J. Watt has been stalking opposing ball-carriers in the recent past. Watt initially attended Central Michigan as a tight end, and played in 13 games there during the 2007 season. He left his CMU scholarship with the intention of walking on at Wisconsin, but had to spend a semester at a junior college to earn enough credits to do so. Once he did, he earned Defensive Scout Team of the Year honors in 2008, a starting job and a scholarship in 2009, and numerous awards in 2010, including team MVP, all-academic Big 10, and the Lott IMPACT trophy, which honors the collegiate defensive player of the year.
Watt is simply a beast: he's long (6-5, 290) and farm-boy strong. He's also surprisingly quick and athletic for a guy his size; he absolutely shocked scouts at the Combine with a display of rare athleticism: he finished in the top five for every D-line test in Indy and capped his performance with a scintillating 4.76 forty. A video of his Combine workout can be found here. At Wisconsin's pro day, he rested on his laurels, but participated in position drills in which he showed off his smoothness and surprisingly fluid change of direction skills.
Although Watt's not a quick-twitch guy off the line, he consistently wins battles at the line of scrimmage through effort, leverage, strength and long arms, jarring blockers at the point of attack. He has shown the core and lower-body strength to occupy blocks or shed to find the ball and bring down the ballcarrier, and can bull rush as a left end or swim over guards when he times the snap. If you're interested in seeing this skillset in action, check out this video of his play against Ohio State, a variety of teams, or in the Rose Bowl against TCU.
Strangely, Watt hasn't been overwhelmed by interest--at least not in the form of invites to team facilities. In addition to the Cowboys, only the Bills, Browns, Titans had Watt pay a visit; given the fact that he's so versatile, I doubt that's a reflection of league-wide interest. After we take a look at the following scouting evaluations, I think you'll see what I mean.
The good word from our stellar collection of uber-draftniks after the jump...
National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 5th-rated DE; 26th overall
A former Central Michigan transfer who made the move from tight end upon his arrival to Wisconsin in 2008. A tall, long-armed kid with a leaner-looking frame and has the ability to add even more girth to his frame. Displays impressive bend and flexibility when asked to coil up and sit into his stance off the edge. Has played both from a three- and four-point stance at end, has stood up on the outside and even kicked inside to tackle on pass downs. Possesses a sneaky first step off the football and because of his length and natural burst can quickly get on top of defensive tackles toward the edge. Allows his pad level to get up easily when trying to reach the corner and doesn't have the type of fluidity/bend to drop his pad level and flatten around the edge, but loves to work his spin move back underneath in order to find the quarterback. Has a powerful set of hands into contact and can really jar defenders initially at the point of attack on his bull rush and walk his way into the backfield. Also does a nice job using his long arms on the edge when trying to reach the corner, loves to work the arm over both inside and out and has some above-average short-area quickness for a guy his size. Can work the inside move off the snap both lined up as a DE and DT and has the body control to quickly slide step the block and keep himself clean before closing on the passer. Isn't a dynamic speed rusher by any stretch though and relies more on his inside counter, power and length o fight his way off blocks. Allows his pad level to get upright when he tries to change directions and fight his way though contact inside, but he has a motor that runs nonstop and works hard through the play.
Delivers a nasty jolt at the point of attack in the run game. Extends his arms well, keeps his base down and can really rock opposing blockers on contact. Displays some short-area quickness when asked to slip blocks upright as well and can make his way into the backfield. However, when trying to cross the face of opposing linemen inside and crash down the line, gets too upright with his pad level, doesn't protect his frame and can easily be washed away down the line. But, as an in-line guy, knows how to anchor at the point, set the edge and play off blocks when run at. Finds the football well for the most part and has good read and react ability. Nevertheless, is a bit limited as a stop and start athlete and doesn't have a real burst initially when asked to close and is more of a high motor strider in pursuit.
Impression: A tall, long-armed physical defensive end who has the versatility to play as either as a DE in a 3-4 and as DE/three-technique in a 4-3. He plays hard, is a natural bender for his size and looks like a solid contributor as a three-down lineman in the NFL in any scheme he plays. Will be on just about every team's draft board.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 10th-rated DE; 37th overall
Against the run: Is exceptional at the point of attack. Is capable of quickly defeating the block attempt by the tight end and disrupting runs in the backfield. Shows exceptional strength to hold and then split double-teams. Can slip the block of the man in front of him, regardless of where he lines up.
Pass rush: Clogs passing lanes on his side because of his great size. Has excellent timing to jump and knock down passes. Is primarily a power rusher who has quick, strong hands to defeat the blocker right away. Wins battles with a great effort to finish.
Initial quickness: Lacks any real explosion from a two-point stance. Appears to lumber in his chase from the backside. Lacks the pure speed and closing ability for a 4-3 scheme.
Run/pass recognition: Shows excellent instincts and awareness vs. the run and pass. Understands and quickly recognizes blocking schemes, but lacks the rare athleticism to make a play if he finds himself out of ideal position. Does a great job of setting the edge, forcing the ball back inside. Is not a special player away from the play.
Pursuit/tackling: Always hustles to the whistle, but lacks the speed and closing burst to make many plays that aren't right at him. Can slide off to the ground at times in his play. Is a physical, tough and aggressive player on contact.
Bottom line: Watt began his collegiate career as a tight end at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin and switching to defense. He has rare size with growth potential to add for the position. Watt is a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme at the next level.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 3rd-rated DE; 10th overall
Positives: Looks very much the part with NFL stature—thick, well-proportioned build with long arms and meat hooks for hands. Rare combination of size, strength and athletic ability—carries his pads well and is light on his feet. Put on a show at the Combine—bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times, vertical-leaped 37 inches, broad-jumped 10 feet and posted short-shuttle (4.21 seconds) and 3-cone (6.88) times better than some running backs. Instinctive and has a feel for the game. Makes big plays in critical times (see Ohio State, Iowa). Good initial quickness—wedges himself in gaps and makes plays behind the line. Extends and has strong, active hands to disengage. Keeps working to the quarterback. Excellent balance and short-area burst. Disrupts passing lanes. Sacrifices his body around piles and leaves everything on the field. Extremely focused, determined, and diligent. Has a passion for the game. Outstanding intangibles. Is a highly respected team leader and players gravitate toward him. Intelligent, articulate and well-spoken.
Negatives: Not an elite athlete and a lot of his production comes on second effort. Could stand to use his hands more violently as a rusher. Shows some tightness in his shoulders. Not explosive at the top of his rush. Average sack production. Does not always play square at the line. Not overly sudden—does not accelerate off blocks. Ordinary closing speed. Lets his pads rise, exposes his frame and becomes blockable.
Summary: A power rush end who tested at the Combine like a rare physical specimen, Watt’s confidence, competitiveness and relentlessness stands out on tape. Lacks a "wow" factor and never will be an elite sack artist, but is a stalwart with a unique, versatile skill set to man either post of a "30" front or be used as a left end or three-technique for a "40" front. Character player whose value is aided by top-notch intangibles and the belief that what you see is what you get.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 3rd-rated DE; 12th overall
Pass Rush Skills: Lacks elite first-step quickness. Carries his weight well but is not an elite pass rusher. Lacks lateral agility on double-moves. But still is a three-down defensive end. Power-to-speed rusher. Shows savvy setting up offensive linemen. Has quick, violent hands. Can get off of blocks quickly, finds the quarterback quickly and shows very good closing burst for his size. Much faster finishing than he is starting. Has rare instincts when it comes to getting hands up and either batting down passes or affecting QB's passing lane. Always active and never stops hustling. Absolutely relentless.
Versus the run: Stronger upper body than lower body. Could play with better pad level at times but is powerful. Can anchor versus the run but also does an excellent job of finding the ball, disengaging and pursuing. He shows exceptional hand usage. Shows violent, quick hands and knows how to use them. Takes good angles in pursuit and shows better straight-line speed once he has momentum than anticipated. He's a finisher.
Versatility: Can slide inside and rush the passer on occasion. Has the frame and upper body strength to develop into an effective 5-technique but needs to get stronger in the lower body.
Instincts/Motor: Snap awareness is generally very good. Will take the bait versus the option on occasion and leaves his defensive scheme vulnerable. But his overall awareness is exceptional. Finds the ball and keeps his head on a swivel. Shows outstanding anticipation. No defensive lineman in this class does a better job of getting his hands up and affecting the quarterbacks' throwing lane. Is absolutely relentless. Tremendous motor.
Intangibles: Named Wisconsin's defensive scout team player of the year in 2008. Named team MVP in 2010. Named Academic All Big 10 in 2009 and 2010.
As these reports suggest, Watt might be the "cleanest" player in the draft--he has prototypical size, his measurables are off the charts, and his intangibles are outstanding. He's a hard worker who has improved his game significantly year by year over the course of his collegiate career. Moreover, he has enough positional versatility to play almost anywhere on the line for any scheme. Scouting types repeatedly note that he will be on almost every team's draft board.
Because of this, I can't imagine that he'll be one of the players that falls; once we get past the first player tier (i.e., the first 6-8 players), he'll get snapped up quickly. I think he's one of the only guys invited to Valley Ranch who merits consideration when the Cowboys come on the board in the first round. Consequently, I'll slot him in the first round, at pick #9.
Enjoy the draft!