In today’s NFL, the pass rushers that are star-level players are some freakish athletes.
There’s Myles Garret in Cleveland, who looks like an alien that descended onto planet Earth to play football. Then there’s Micah Parsons in Dallas, who looks like he should be a skill guy offensively with his movement skills and overall athleticism.
Pittsburgh Steelers star pass rusher T.J. Watt might not fit in that discussion of freakish athletes on the edge, but what he does have going for him compared to some of the other more propped-up, well-thought of pass rushers is his overall football IQ and general intellect.
Watt eats, sleeps and breathes football. He studies it, relentlessly prepares and then has a motor that runs red-hot on the field at all times.
Combine all those with Watt’s athletic profile and it’s no surprise why he dominates year after year screaming off the edge for the Black and Gold.
Head coach Mike Tomlin sees that intellect and preparation from Watt on a daily basis. Speaking with reporters Tuesday during his weekly press conference, Tomlin spoke glowingly about Watt and his ability to prepare and produce week in and week out compared to other pass rushers.
“Man, there is a significant difference based on football intellect and experience. You know, some people watch tape, some people study tape, and there’s a difference. However, you describe the spectrum, T.J. is on the extreme end of it from a preparedness standpoint and that’s one of the reasons why you get the production that you get from him beyond his freakish talent,” Tomlin said, according to video via the Steelers’ YouTube page. “He was always like that in mentality. I think the level of productivity from that endeavor grows with his experience. It gets more pointed, he wastes less time. I could just tell by the dialogue that he and I have and how it has matured over the years that his process is being honed to a fine edge.”
Coming out of college, Watt was rather inexperienced as a pass rusher having spent a few years at Wisconsin as a tight end before making the flip to the defensive side of the football, aiming to follow in older brother J.J. Watt’s shoes.
Even though he was raw, the athleticism and base-level understanding of the position and how to rush the passer paid off right away. It’s only gotten better and better as Watt has grown into the position and dived head-first into its nuances, learning how to set up pass blockers, how to craft moves off of one another and how to have a diverse, nuanced pass rush arsenal.
It’s led to him being one of the most dominant — if not the most dominant — defensive players in football. He won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021, tied the single-season sacks record with 22.5 that season and already has 6.0 sacks this season, becoming the first defensive player in the sacks era that started in 1982 to have six sacks and a defensive touchdown in the first three games of the year.
While he’s a good athlete with good speed and overall bend along with quick, efficient hands, his ability to consume film, learn strengths and weaknesses and formulate a plan for how to attack those strengths and weaknesses sets him apart. It will continue to set him apart moving forward, too, on his Hall of Fame trajectory.