T.J. Watt has a famous big brother, and maybe you think he is just relying on that name to generate buzz. However, after his Combine performance, there’s a decent chance he joins his older brother in becoming a first round pick.
Watt wasn’t in Mel Kiper’s first round mock draft a month ago. He wasn’t in ours earlier this year. Of the five mock drafts listed pre-Combine from February on NFL.com, Watt only snuck in the first round of one of them (29th to Green Bay in Daniel Jeremiah’s). At CBS, the three mocks from pre-Combine do not have him in; two of the three updated during the Combine have him going to either Green Bay (29th, Prisco) or Pittsburgh (30th, Brugler). He is also now in the MMQB Post-Combine Mock.
So set aside the last name and reputation. Watt went out and put up some great, athletic numbers at the Combine. He, like his brother, converted from tight end, starring for only one year at outside linebacker at Wisconsin before opting to enter the draft. How did he do?
- 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash (12th of 21 LBs)
- 21 bench press reps (tied for 10th of 22 LBs)
- 37″ vertical (tied for 2nd of 23 LBs)
- 128″ broad jump (tied for 1st with Jabril Peppers, out of 23 LBs)
- 6.79 seconds in 3-cone drill (2nd out of 16 LBs)
- 4.13 seconds in the shuttle (tied for 1st out of 17 LBs)
So his 40-time was near average for the group, as were his strength numbers. He dominated the explosiveness/short-area quickness categories, though, finishing at or near the top in each.
Acme Packing Company, a Packers blog, noted that he put up similar (but generally better) Combine numbers to Clay Matthews, who was the 26th overall pick back in 2009. And yes, he did put up similar numbers, but I took it a bit further and looked at all linebackers at the Combine, using the historical data here going back to 1999.
I found 30 most similar guys who were within one inch in height and 15 pounds in weight, based on performance in the various categories. I then took that group and rank-ordered them by each category (40-time, bench, vertical, broad jump, shuttle, 3-cone, height, and weight) by closest to Watt’s numbers. There were actually 12 other guys who show up as or more similar than Clay Matthews. Here they are:
T.J. Watt is not Von Miller, who had a freakish 40-time to go with every thing else. But Watt’s performance in every other category is almost identical to Miller’s. DeMarcus Ware was stronger but otherwise similar to what Watt did. Two of the most athletic middle linebackers of the last 15 years, capable of playing inside and outside, are on here, in Brian Urlacher and Luke Kuechly.
Eight of the 13 guys there went in the first round, with two more going before pick 50 (Misi and Barwin). They have been pretty good investments as a group–11 of the 13 have outperformed the average player at their draft position. Only Barkevious Mingo and Antwan Peek were busts. Of this group, performance in the shuttle is most correlated with success, with Mingo and Peek, along with Koa Misi and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila putting up the slowest shuttle times.
All of this is to say that T.J. Watt, while he may be more raw than some other prospects in terms of learning the position, already showed instincts and now has the athletic measurables to match. We know he already has his brother’s hyper focus on football and talking clichés down as well. Don’t be surprised if he gets picked by a good organization as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system and is making his own name before long.