EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin has been resurrecting his college scouting reports this summer for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed draft prospects. Next up is J.J. Watt, who became one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass rushers.
GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Watt was MVP of his Pewaukee (Wis.) High School team as a senior after collecting 18 sacks as a defensive end and catching five TD passes as a tight end. He also won the state shot put title in track. Watt began his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan but played there only one season in 2007, catching two passes. He sat out 2008 in his transfer to Wisconsin, then started two years at defensive end for the Badgers. He earned All-Big Ten honors both on and off the field as a junior and was voted team MVP following a seven-sack season. Watt elected to skip his senior season, applying for admission to the 2011 NFL draft. He measured a shade over 6-5 and weighed 290 pounds at the NFL combine. He also bench-pressed 220 pounds but clocked only a 4.84 40-yard dash. There were two other positives on his draft profile -- long arms (34 inches) and big hands (11 1/8 inches). Gosselin placed him at No. 11 on his Top 100 board, the second defensive end after Robert Quinn. The Houston Texans drafted him with the 11th overall choice.
Here are pre-draft comments from 13 NFL talent evaluators on Watt:
Scout: Like better than (Ryan) Kerrigan (16th overall pick of the 2011 draft by Washington).
Scout II: First round.
Scout III: Best player on board for 3-4 teams, not a factor for 4-3 teams.
Personnel director: 3-4 teams will love him.
Personnel director II: Late 1, no speed.
Personnel director III: First round. You know what you’re getting. Power plugger, goes as hard as he can. Base DE, DT pass rusher.
Personnel director IV: The Gabe Carimi of defense. Not an elite athlete. A little stiff and on the ground too much. But he’s system friendly. Can rush inside or out.
Personnel director V: Name the last Wisconsin defensive lineman that made it – in any round? Erasmus James? Wendell Bryant? Darryl Sims? Don Davey? Sharp kid but not a football player. Those Wisconsin kids don’t show up on tape.
Defensive coordinator: #3 DE.
Defensive coordinator II: Wanted to like him more than I did.
Head coach: Scares me. Not exceptional at anything. If you’re not explosive and lack great quickness, you get locked up with those offensive tackles in this league and don’t go anywhere.
Head coach II: #4 defensive end behind Cameron Jordan (24th pick of the draft by New Orleans). Better upside than (Aldon) Smith (7th pick of the draft by San Francisco). He’s going to get better.
General manager: First round, late teens.
WATT CAREER SUMMARY: If the NFL could do it all over again, Watt would have been the first overall selection of the 2011 draft. In his 10 seasons in Houston, he collected 101 sacks and was a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Watt posted 20-plus sacks in two of his seasons (2012 and 2014), leading the league each time. Watt forced 25 fumbles, recovered 16 and intercepted three passes, returning all three of them for touchdowns. He also returned a fumble for a score in 2014. Watt has averaged 10 sacks per year despite injuries in three of his seasons that cost him 32 career starts. He has been voted to five Pro Bowls and was named to the 2010 NFL all-decade team. Watt also won the Walter Payton NFL Man of Year Award in 2017. He left the Texans in free agency this offseason for the Arizona Cardinals.