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NFL Draft: LB T.J. Watt a possibility for Giants at 23?

J.J.’s brother our latest dark-horse candidate

NFL: Combine
T.J. Watt
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are picking 23rd in the 2017 NFL draft coming off a pretty good season that leaves them open to many options picking in the first round. The main cast of characters mocked around the Giants centers around offensive linemen and tight end David Njoku (over 60 percent of mock drafts lean that way), but if I’ve learned anything from the NFL Draft and the Giants is that we should prepare for the unexpected.

That’s what this series is all about. Few saw the Giants picks of Prince Amukamara (because he fell), Justin Pugh (because he was pegged as a “second-round pick”), or Eli Apple (I didn’t see one mock draft that had Apple has the pick). Sure, it’s probably more likely the Giants will grab a good offensive linemen than any other position because that’s their biggest need, but if they are considering thinking outside the box here’s a player they may end up taking at 23.

Like his brother, T.J. Watt carved out a name for himself as a Wisconsin Badger. He went to the school initially as a tight end and after a couple of injury-riddled seasons came to life in 2016 as a defensive end/outside linebacker with 15 tackles for loss and a 11.5 sacks. Watt produced against all competition as well. He played six games against top 25 teams and had sacks in five (he did not have a sack in his first game against LSU).

Watt also fits the mold athletically for a New York Giants front-seven player. Watt is 6’4”, 252 pounds with 33 1/4-inch arms and 11-inch hands. The Giants have consistently been attracted to players who show length and they believe in general that is a major indicator in terms of long-term success (Olivier Vernon is an exception to the rule). Watt also has versatility, he reminds people of Clay Matthews, Paul Kruger, Anthony Barr. All of these players are 3-4 EDGE rushers with 4-3 defensive lineman length. The Giants have been searching for a flexible, versatile EDGE rusher who can generate pressure from the second level as a linebacker and take sub-snaps as a sefensive end for years. They tried to use Mathias Kiwanuka in that role, Adrian Tracy, Clint Sintim, they were heavily sniffing around Leonard Floyd last year, they signed and then had to rescind a contract to O’Brien Schofield. The Giants crave a player like T.J. Watt.

Watt also has athletic ability with a 4.69 40-yard dash (not great for a linebacker, but great if he’s a defensive end), 37-inch vertical jump, 128-inch broad jump, and was also a top performer in the 3 cone drills, 20-yard shuttles, and 60-yard shuttles at the NFL Combine. Simply put, he’s a big-time EDGE rush athlete who has amassed great production (albeit for one year) who could give the Giants a player they have been coveting for years. He also has pedigree in the league as his brother J.J. is an All-Pro and his other brother also plays in the league. He’s clean off the field, high-character, clean prospect. Watt is also among a handful of players who met the “force” requirement for EDGE rushers which is a measure of athletic ability that incorporates a players’ density.

Watt is not a player generally mocked to the Giants because he’s seen as a second-round caliber athlete who doesn’t necessarily fit the Giants system. The Giants, though, don’t typically evaluate players the way the media does and Watt fits the position the Giants have been trying to create/fill since Jerry Reese became general manager in 2007. The Giants could also covet Watt because the Giants know they played Olivier Vernon and JPP way too much last year and need to give them more rest, and Watt has the required length and body density to be able to take sub-package snaps as a pass rusher as a 4-3 DE.

T.J. Watt may not be the ideal candidate for the Giants 23rd pick in the first round. He is, though, an ideal dark-horse candidate. If chosen we’ll look back at and think, yes, that did actually make a lot of sense and we should have seen it coming.

Draft needs and fits

Chris Pflum looks at players who could be fits for the Giants on each day of the draft.