The Washington Post

NFL draft: Watt to cash in on transfer, position change

Today we continue our look at possible draft picks for the Washington Redskins, who hold the tenth overall selection in this month’s NFL draft. On Friday, we took a look at North Carolina’s Robert Quinn. Today it’s Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has the Redskins taking Watt in his latest mock draft, and the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock rates the junior just behind Quinn, who is expected to switch to linebacker, and Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who is expected to be gone by the time Washington is on the clock.

Defensive end doesn’t seem to be as dire a need for Washington with Adam Carriker, Kedric Golston and Phillip Daniels all having done solid jobs at that position last year, and with the still-developing Jeremy Jarmon also in the mix. But, if Redskins coaches believe they are in need of an upgrade, Watt would seem to be available.

Unlike some of this year’s pass rushers, who are believed to have the ability to either play end or make the transition to outside linebacker, Watt seems to be pegged only at defensive end regardless of whether he is in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense.

Watt has great strength. He lifted 225 pounds 34 times at the combine, the top mark for defensive ends, and he posted a position-best in both vertical jump (37 inches) and broad jump (10 feet). But he isn’t the fastest guy; he clocked a 4.84 40-yard dash.

Watt recorded 61 total tackles (20.5 for loss) last season and had seven sacks in Wisconsin’s 4-3 defense, but some believe he might be better suited for the 3-4, which requires ends to move laterally rather than initially get upfield after the quarterback.

“He’s stout at the point [of attack], strong against the run, can free up your linebackers and give you just enough of a push,” Kiper said of Watt last week. “With his height and his wingspan and his work ethic and his passion, he’ll get into throwing lanes and he’ll sack the quarterback.”

Kiper also said, “He’s a battler and he’ll bat passes down, but as a 4-3 end he doesn’t fit that scheme ideally.”

Watt is far from a finished product. He has been playing defensive end only for the past two years. A first-team all-state tight end/defensive end in high school, Watt went to Central Michigan to play tight end. But the Chippewas ran a spread offense, and Watt ended up not being featured much. So he transferred to Wisconsin as a walk-on, gained 40 pounds and made the switch to defensive end. He is now listed at 6’ 5” and 290 pounds.

“My transfer was an all or nothing situation where I wanted to play in the NFL and I felt going to Wisconsin was my best opportunity,” Watt said at the NFL combine. “Thankfully, my parents supported my decision and here I am today because of it. That definitely wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t transferred.”

Watt said it doesn’t matter to him if he winds up in the 3-4 or 4-3. He said some teams have talked to him about playing end in the 4-3 and then switching to defensive tackle in passing situations.

“I can play just about anywhere,” he said. “Where I feel most comfortable is defensive end because that’s where I’ve been playing, but I also can kick inside to a three-technique or a one-technique on passing situations. I think that versatility will really help me in this process.”

Switching a mindset from being a rush-first end (4-3) to a read-and-react lineman (3-4) is challenging for some players, but Watt, who describes himself as “a tenacious and relentless defender” said it won’t be hard for him.

“I feel like you can make any defense fun, as long as you’re willing to penetrate, willing to use your motor to your advantage,” he said. “If I need to take blocks off linebackers, I’ll do it. But at the end of the day I’m also going to try to make plays for myself because that will help the defense as a whole.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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