Over the course of the offseason, we’ve seen the Cowboys take some chances in order to make this team better and ready for 2017. They’ve signed free agents to fill necessary holes and let others walk in order to improve THIS season. That’s the key phrase here, the Cowboys really believe that this draft is going to net them some serious talent even if they’re picking at the end of each round. With this draft being touted as one of the deepest in recent memory, the Cowboys will be looking for impact players throughout the entire draft.
The more the evaluation process has gone along the clearer the message has become. Everyone in the world knows that the Cowboys’ focus will lie on the defensive side of the ball. That doesn’t mean offense is off the table it just means the lean will be defensive. The Cowboys especially need pass rushers and defensive backs and it’s no secret. However, with the fascinating depth at defensive back, the edge rusher should be targeted as early as possible.
The other day, I opined that it’s not about finding “an” edge rusher but more about finding that “right” edge rusher. They need a right defensive end for their scheme and preferably one with a high ceiling and low floor. That’s why I will officially announce my boarding the “T.J. Watt at pick 28 train” if he’s still on the board.
Though some draftniks or gurus want to discuss and separate T.J. from his absolute dominant NFL defender brother J.J., why not embrace the family crest? T.J. is not the second coming of J.J. Watt, at least, that’s not what he looks to be right now. What he is though is worth the consideration at 28 because he’s got what it takes to become a great edge rusher. His brother’s work ethic has become something to marvel and you can already tell that it’s influencing T.J. too:
"(J.J.)'s completely 100 percent and he's got no restrictions at all. We're working out, we're competing, we find ways to see who jumps higher, who jumps farther, who runs faster, who lifts more," Watt said. "It's really fun to finally have an offseason where I'm not coming back and forth from school on the weekends to work out with him. ... To go head-to-head in the weight room is really special and I'm just enjoying it."
It’s all business for the Watt family and that’s what is going to make a grizzled coach like Rod Marinelli like this kid. Watt doesn’t have a tremendous amount of time in the position but he’s going to be an above-average performer at defensive end. Despite the thought that he’s better suited for 3-4 defenses, he has the versatility and drive to become a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
His pure athleticism, ability, and awareness of the game are going to make it hard to stop him if he keeps progressing. He’s just as meticulous about the little things not unlike his older brother. He’s been described by his coaches as relentless and obsessive about being the best player he can be. Watt isn’t the type of player that should be so steadfast labeled as one thing or another, he’s simply a very good football player.
Now, Watt is only scratching the surface of his potential as he hasn’t had much time playing defense with only two years in the position and a one-year starter for the Badgers. Still, there is little doubt that had he not come out early, he would most certainly be a top edge rushing prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. His production in 2016 is hard to ignore as he posted 15.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and earned First-Team All-Big 10 honors as well as All-American honors.
For all the “tweener” talk and concerns that folks have about Watt’s speed to the edge or explosiveness, the tape reveals an active player that shows aggression when he attacks the blockers. Watt’s hands are big and powerful and his acceleration and quickness are underrated. He was asked to play the 34 OLB position and he did it extremely well. The scheme that Wisconsin ran asked Watt to read first then react. That causes some folks to think that means he’s slow on tape, that’s not true by any means. In a 4-3, Watt will be asked to do one thing, pressure the quarterback.
Evaluators need to understand that this is a guy who has excelled at what he’s been asked to do. If he’s asked to become a hand in the dirt edge rusher for a 4-3, there is little doubt that he won’t find a way to consistently win there too. That’s what Watt does as a defender, he finds ways to make it happen. Watt was able to perform well against top-level competition and that’s what you’re looking for in an edge rusher. There are other guys like Tanoh Kpassagnon and Derek Rivers that are impressive flyers for a later round. However, for the money, give me a guy that excelled against future NFL lineman not accountants, lawyers, and doctors.
In addition, Watt tested extremely well by SPARQ metrics. As our BTB Podcast Host, Landon McCool said the evaluation process is not about holding SPARQ over tape, it’s about using the method as an indicator. What SPARQ does is it indicates the athleticism thresholds of players. Watt posted a 140.4 SPARQ rating with and NFL percentile of 94.0. He’s well above the NFL average for the caliber of athlete and it’s only just begun for Watt.
His athletic abilities and approach to becoming the best he can be are what will make him the ideal candidate for the Dallas Cowboys. They need the “right” rusher and this is the guy that should check all of those boxes for them. Rod Marinelli doesn’t get enough credit for his abilities to identify the best traits in players and showcasing them. What do you think he could make with a player who is progressing like T.J. Watt?
Of the ten reported names of players the Cowboys are bringing in, six of those are edge rushers, and T.J. Watt is among those names. It’s been truly a difficult task to evaluate these edge rushers as they have all shown their struggles. With that said, the NFL puts a premium on the position and the Cowboys really need an impac edge presence. For what it’s worth, the Cowboys need T.J. Watt.