On my initial 2011 Big Board, I ranked Wisconsin defensive tackle/defensive end, J.J. Watt, at No. 30—far lower than the consensus. This ranking was based on multiple live and taped games I had watched. To me, Watt seemed to have a low ceiling.
After watching more of Watt’s games at the request of some readers, my opinion has begun to shift (a bit). Perhaps I had witnessed some of Watt’s “average” games, but the new film I saw was rather impressive. On my new Big Board (yet to be published), I have moved Watt up to No. 18 overall, just behind Muhammad Wilkerson, but ahead of DaQuan Bowers (in a free fall), Adrian Clayborn and Drake Nevis. Here is why...
One of my initial concerns about Watt is that, contrary to other reports, he doesn’t seem that stout at the point-of-attack. I still stand by that statement. Watt obviously has great size and strength, but when asked to hold ground against the run, he’s an average player. It’s a bit perplexing, as Watt generally plays with superb leverage. I think his mindset changes when he’s not asked to get after the quarterback and he becomes more tentative. That could make him a poor fit in Rob Ryan’s two-gap scheme.
At 290 pounds, though, Watt seems to be a natural fit as a five-technique end. For his size, Watt is incredibly quick and agile. He finished in the top four among all defensive linemen in the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle at the Combine. Quite impressive.
Watt uses that athleticism on the field in a diverse array of pass rush moves, including what I consider the best swim move in the class. His rip move and bull rush are also solid, particularly because of his leverage. Watt’s overall quickness is on display at the 3:25 mark below—this time from the defensive tackle position.
To go with his athleticism, Watt is also a high-motor player with a great work ethic. This makes his floor rather high—he’s not tremendously likely to be a bust. For a team that can’t afford to “miss” on its first round pick, that’s a great thing.
Nonetheless, I don’t think Watt is a serious candidate to go to Dallas at No. 9 overall. In my opinion, his ceiling is still “average”—like my view on Sean Lee last year (whom I think I was wrong on, by the way), I’m not sure how much better Watt will become. He could be a Marcus Spears clone (albeit quicker, but less of a force against the run). When compared to a player like Tyron Smith or, at his position, Cameron Jordan, Watt’s upside is far lower.
Overall, game tape such as that below made me alter Watt’s rating. Keep in mind this is by far the best tape on him I could find. The player the Cowboys would get is a cross between this one and the one I originally saw who is, at times, a second round talent with minimal upside.
Watt has moved up boards lately. I now think he’s a late-first round talent who, due to his measurables and work ethic, will get selected in the middle of the first round. If the Cowboys like Watt enough, they should probably make a move down for him. There are rumors they like Cameron Jordan quite a bit as well, and one of them will almost certainly be available at, say, New England’s 17th overall pick.
Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011