|Easy to see what the pre-draft J.J. Watt fuss was about||12.05.12 at 6:19 pm ET|
Every year, certain prospects in the NFL draft appear to be perfect fits for the Patriots. In many cases, it turns out to be a whole lot of idealizing, and the player’s career indicates that perhaps the prospect was simply fool’s gold.
That has obviously not been the case for J.J. Watt. In the months leading up to the 2011 draft, the Wisconsin defensive end was viewed as just the type of lineman the Pats could use — given that to that point they were primarily a 3-4 team, Watt’s 6-foot-5 3/8, 290-pound frame was ideal, and he could get after the quarterback better than anyone on New England’s roster.
With other five-technique prospects (Marcell Dareus and Cameron Jordan) rated ahead of him in some circles, the possibility existed that the Patriots, who had the 17th pick in the draft, could get him by either standing pat or moving up a few spots.
While Watt seemed like a no-brainer X’s and O’s-wise for the Pats, perhaps the biggest concern with him involved the process of crossing the T’s and dotting the lower-case J’s. Watt had signed on with agent Tom Condon of CAA Sports, and the Patriots’ rocky dealings with Condon in the negotiations for Benjamin Watson‘s rookie contract have forced them to pick a grand total of zero Condon clients since Watson to this day ["We pretend there are 31 franchises in the NFL now and they pretend we don’t exist," Condon once said.]
It was never learned whether the Patriots would have bent their no-Condon-clients-allowed rule for Watt (they eventually did this past offseason when Condon client Brandon Lloyd made his interest in the Patriots known), as the Texans scooped up Watt with the 11th overall pick. [As a side note, the Texans' roster is filled with WEEI.com draft binkies over the years, from Connor Barwin, to Kareem Jackson, to Watt, to Brandon Harris to Whitney Mercilus]. The Pats stayed put at No. 17 and chose Colorado tackle Nate Solder.
A little less than two seasons into Watt’s career, it’s looking like 2011 should have been the year in which the Pats were aggressive and moved up in the first round, as they did twice in 2012. Watt has established himself as perhaps the best pass-rusher in the NFL and a game-changer regardless of whether he’s bringing the quarterback down.
Watt’s 15.5 sacks are second to only fellow 2011 draftee Aldon Smith‘s 17.5, but that isn’t even his most impressive statistic. The 23-year-old is sixth in the NFL with 15 passes defensed, and he’s doing that as a lineman (obviously, the five players ahead of him are defensive backs, as is every other player with 10 or more passes defensed). So not only do quarterbacks have to watch out for Watt sacking them, but they have to be sure the big lineman isn’t batting down their passes.
The Patriots eventually got their big defensive end in the 2012 draft with Chandler Jones, and the Syracuse product has appeared to be the real deal despite having missed the last three games with an ankle injury. As a matter of fact, some of Jones’ stats through the first nine games of his career are actually better than Watt’s 16-game totals in his rookie season. Jone’s six sacks thus far exceed Watt’s 5.5 from last year, and while Watt didn’t have any forced fumbles last season, Jones has forced three.
If Jones, who is far leaner than Watt at 260 pounds, progresses into anything like what the Texans’ have in Watt, the Patriots will undoubtedly have a young star on their hands. Until then, Pats fans who had their fingers cross for Watt leading up to the 2011 will continue to wonder what could have been in New England.
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