Name: Derek Watt
NFL games played: 16
Games played for the Chargers: 16
Fun fact: Derek Watt is the younger brother of J.J. Watt.
You see that fun fact? Good. We’re not mentioning it again. Derek Watt is a legitimate football player in his own right, and it really annoys me when every article about Watt makes non stop references to J.J. If you want to go and read about J.J Watt’s life, you can close this article and go right ahead. This is all about Derek.
Derek Watt is a damn fine athlete in his own right. Watt was a three sport athlete in High School - and was an Academic All-Conference in every single one. Watt competed in basketball (where he earned three letters), track and field (where he earned four letters competing in the discus, shot put, relay and even the 100m), and football, where he was absolutely dominant. Playing both ways as a RB and LB, Watt finished his High School career with 2,685 rushing yards, 44 rushing touchdowns (setting the school record for rushing yards in a season, as well as the record for points scored in a season). 625 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns, 140 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 6.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Oh, and he also returned a kick and punt for a touchdown. And kicked extra points. I don’t think the term ‘jack of all trades’ has ever been more fitting.
Watt - unsurprisingly - earned numerous accolades, including being named a Second-Team USA Today All-American as an LB, First-Team All-State at LB and as an honorable mention at RB, Conference Player of the Year (as both an RB and LB) and perhaps most impressively, his senior campaign saw him named the AP Wisconsin Player of the Year.
A 3* recruit by all the major recruiting sites, and ranked as the sixth best player in Wisconsin by Rivals and ESPN, Watt was originally committed to play LB at Northwestern, but de-committed to take a gray shirt offer from Wisconsin (which is essentially a delayed redshirt), before being given a full redshirt offer, which he accepted.
During his redshirt freshman season, Watt would be practicing as an LB, backing up future (and former) San Francisco 49ers LB Chris Borland. According to Watt, the switch to FB came about in a practice two weeks before the season, when Wisconsin HC Bret Bielema told him to ‘come over here and hit this guy.’ After Watt hit him, Bielema mused ‘we can work with that.’ Watt was now an FB.
The newly converted Watt would go on to appear in 47 games for the Badgers in his four years as a player, only missing six - five of which he was held out of with a broken foot. It’s odd to say for an FB, but Watt genuinely was a key component of the Wisconsin offense, in his freshman year blocking for Montee Ball during the season in which he set the record for rushing TDs (before it was broken this year by Navy QB and now Ravens WR Keenan Reynolds). The season after, Watt helped block Wisconsin to 283.8 rushing yards per game, and in 2014 (with Melvin Gordon as the starting HB) Wisconsin set a school record 320.1 rushing yards per game.
Gordon left for the NFL in 2015, but Watt stayed on for his Senior year, where he had a career high 15 receptions and 9 rushes for 139 yards and 45 yards respectively. He’d declare for the 2016 NFL Draft, where the Chargers would select him with their second pick in the sixth round.
Watt’s rookie year was mediocre, all things considered. Billed as being some kind of weird savior for Melvin Gordon to revive his career, Watt played in (as expected) just 13.3% of the snaps, while Gordon did just fine without his old FB helping him out. Watt had 2 carries for four yards and four catches for 83 yards (including a 53-yard catch against the Broncos) and added five Special Teams tackles.
My problem with Watt is, in fairness, largely related to my own philosophy of how FBs should be used. Personally, I like my FBs to be a superb run blocker first and foremost, and maybe a guy who can be used as a power back in short yardage situations. That’s not Watt.
He’s a better runner than most FBs, but he’s not someone you’d completely trust to pick up a first down on 3rd and 1, and so his rushing skills are irrelevant. You’re never going to have a formation where Watt is in the game but a true HB isn’t, and I can’t think of a situation where it would be Watt getting the ball to run it outside rather than the HB.
Watt’s a pretty good receiver for an FB, and he’s handy on Special Teams, but he’s just not good enough as a blocker for me to get on board with. He’s good at finding a man to block and making initial contact, but doesn’t have the size to stay engaged with the defender for long enough, and ended up on the floor too often last season. I think it’s fair to assume that Watt will have improved now that he’s had a full NFL season under his belt, so we’ll see how he’s looking when Training Camp and Preseason arrive.
I’m much more of a fan of Watt off the field than I am on it, at least. He spent time in the ‘Badgers Give Back’ Program at Wisconsin to volunteer at a retirement home.
That’s not all Watt did, either. He was a coach at various youth camps, volunteered to help with Special Olympics Bowling, and helped to unload gifts for Christmas Cleaning House, a charity set up to help give Christmas presents to children in need.
Watt seems like a stand-up guy, and I was genuinely happy for him when I saw that he’d gotten engaged earlier this year to Gabriella Justin, a sideline reporter and sports anchor.
I might not like Watt all that much on the field, but you can never complain about having a stand-up guy on your football team, and he did contribute in parts last season. Hopefully, he takes a step forward under new Head Coach Anthony Lynn.