Draftwatch: DE JJ Watt – Wisconsin

Spoiler alert : I have a new mock draft coming this week (you can view the first [partial] one here) and my pick for Buffalo has changed. It’s no longer Clemson linebacker Da’Quan Bowers – it’ll be Wisconsin defensive lineman JJ Watt.

WHO HE IS

Watt – a 6’5″, 290 lb. athletic freak with 34″ arms and monstrous 11.5″ hands – has been a darkhorse candidate to be a top-ten pick for a couple of months now. His body of work as a do-everything lineman in his two seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers was credit enough to get him that far. His combine numbers pushed him further, and I believe he has the steam behind him to be propelled as high as the third overall selection, where Buffalo picks in this April’s draft.

Watt started his college football career as a true freshman tight end for the Central Michigan Chippewas before transferring to Wisconsin for the remainder of his time as a collegiate athlete. During his redshirt year for the Badgers, Watt made the transition to defensive end and in 2009 he started every game there – putting together a 44 tackle (15.5 for a loss) / 4.5 sack season with two fumble recoveries. With another offseason to better his understanding of the position and condition his body, Watt would return for his Junior season and improve in just about every category with a dominant 59 tackle (21 for loss) / 7 sack season with two fumble recoveries and an interception – as well as being named as the recipient of the Ronnie Lott award – and begin to show up in the conversation of ‘sleeper’ picks from the likes of Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper, amongst others.

Over the few months since the end of Watt’s Junior season – and his decision to forego another in lieu of going pro – he has cemented himself as the top 3-4 defensive end in this year’s strong defensive class. Some even have him as the top overall defensive lineman coming out this year, and that’s saying something. Watt has the uncanny ability, size, strength, and athleticism to effectively play every position on the line – save nose guard in a base 3-4 scheme.

He measured near the top amongst defensive linemen in almost every category at this week’s scouting combine – 34 reps on the bench press, a freakish (for his size) 4.84 seconds in the 40 yard dash, 37 inch vertical jump, 10 foot broad jump, and a 6.8 second run through the three-cone drill. His speed, vert, and broad jump are strong indicators of his amazing first-step ability to power through opposing linemen and make his way through the backfield to take down the ballcarrier and get the sack or pressure that is often crucial in the NFL.

WHY BUFFALO SHOULD TAKE HIM

General Manager Buddy Nix recently made it clear that the team is still striving towards a strong base in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Though they are usually the least recognized components of that scheme’s machine, it’s very hard to run a successful three man front without powerful ends. 2010 free agency acquisition Dwan Edwards did his job to secure a starting role in his first season as a Bill – Marcus Stroud did not, and is currently a sought after free agent on the open market. With a rising star at nose guard in Kyle Williams and his eventual replacement in waiting (2010 2nd round pick Torell Troup) already on the roster, the team should be looking for another impact player to round out the DL and didn’t show enough loyalty to 2010 3rd rounder Alex Carrington throughout his rookie season to assume he’s even being considered for the role.

JJ Watt would be able to come in with his size (prototypical of what you’re looking for out of a 3-4 end) and immediately take over the edge for Buffalo and help both the pass rush and run defense. Another thing that Nix and Head Coach Chan Gailey have been clamoring for as of late has been versatility amongst their defensive players – they realize that, amidst last year’s transition for this defense, the native four-man front yielded better results and plan on including an array of 4-3 formations in their “3-4 hybrid” scheme, run by George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt. This is another area that Watt would be of great help. He could easily play the strongside in a 4-3 look along with Williams, Troup, and Edwards or slide inside with Williams to allow the speedy Carrington to take his spot on the edge. That added bit of versatility and athletic ability should weigh greatly in any decisions on whether or not he should become a part of the rebuilding process in Western New York.

FINAL WORD

Watt has one of the highest motors of all of the defensive linemen available (rivaled only by Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan) and will only improve upon his impressive build once under an NFL weight training regimen. His fine use of the wingspan and large hands he possesses to break off of blocks and find himself in the backfield of the opposition is at an impressive level for his age – and he has the height and awareness to get high enough to bat down passes routinely and often. He’ll remind a lot of long-time Bills fans of former end Phil Hansen with his size and drive, where his athleticism and ability will draw comparisons to 2006 first-overall pick Mario Williams of the Houston Texans. He’s a very intelligent, powerful, and relentless player who can do it all. These qualities and attributes should be enough to make him one of the first players selected in the 2011 draft and an effective starter in the National Football League going forward.

Thank you all for your continued support, until next time…

Up next : Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder

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