Jacksonville Jaguars land edge TJ Watt in 2017 NFL draft do-over

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a dominant defense back in 2017, the one that affectionately became known as Sacksonville. However, the unit could have gone from special to historic if they had selected edge defender T.J. Watt instead of running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick of that year’s draft.

Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report recently redid the 2017 draft and had the Jags taking Watt. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes went to the Cleveland Browns at No.1, the San Francisco 49ers chose defensive end Myles Garrett with the second overall pick, and Deshaun Watson landed with the Chicago Bears at No. 3. Regarding Jacksonville, Davenport says that Fournette turned out to be alright, posting a 1,000-yard season twice in three years. However, he thinks the Jaguars could have done better than ok.

"T.J. Watt wasn’t considered an elite prospect in 2017 — it was late in Round 1 before the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the Wisconsin edge-rusher. But he has been a difference-maker on the field since, racking up a whopping 72 career sacks, including 65 over the past four years. A four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record with 22.5 and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year."

Had the Jaguars taken Watt and still wanted to draft a running back, they could have easily found one in the second or third round.  Joe Mixon, Kareen Hunt, Delvin Cook, James Conner, and Alvin Kamara, just to name a few, come to mind. Hunt, Kamara, and Cook have run into trouble over the last few years and Mixon has dealt with injuries but Conner has been a productive player throughout his career. Either way, all of them have been as productive or more than Fournette.

TJ Watt could have turned the Jaguars into a defensive juggernaut.

The Jaguars’ Sacksonville defense ranked second in points allowed and logged 33 turnovers, good for second in the league. They were stacked with talented players such as defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback A.J. Bouye became household names. Now imagine Watt joining their defensive line rotation, their numbers would have been even better.

On the other hand, it’s fair to wonder how long the Jags would have been able to keep the defense together. After all, the unit fell apart as fast as it rose to prominense. They still ranked fourth in points surrendered and fifth in total yards in 2018 but they ranked 21st and 24th, respectively, in 2019 and by 2020, the front office had dismantled the unit, and Ramsey, Campbell, Ngakoue, and Bouye were no longer with the team.

Would the Jaguars have given Watt the same four-year, $112 million contract he got from the Pittsburgh Steelers or would they have traded for a couple of first-round picks? There’s no doubt Watt would have been the perfect bookend pass rusher for outside linebacker Josh Allen but former general manager Dave Caldwell struggled to keep most of the team’s homegrown talent during his tenure and he might have had trouble signing Watt to a long-term deal.

The Jaguars are currently rebuilding after years of subpar results on the football field. It looks like they have the right pieces in place but Watt could probably speed up the process if he were on the team.

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