Chargers’ Opt for Substance over Style with Guard Chris Watt

Chris Watt personifies the reason teams should never, ever spend a first-round pick on a guard.

Watt is not huge, like Xaver Su’a-Filo or Jack Mewhort. He’s not freaky athletic in the mold of Jonathan Cooper. There’s probably not a mock draft on the planet that put him in the first two rounds.

But Watt can really play, and the Chargers got good value taking him in the third round, particularly in comparison to teams like the Texans and Colts (future employers of the aforementioned Su’a-Filo and Mewhort, respectively).

Find any youtube clip of the Notre Dame offense this past year, and you’ll see Watt stoning pass rushers, burying run defenders, and ably finding linebackers at the second level. You don’t need me to point out that Watt is talented.

Watt stands apart from his peers for different reasons. Particularly in 2013, Watt showed good balance and an aptitude for quickly recovering from missteps. Here, an Alabama defender engages Watt (left guard) and immediately throws him off balance with a strong two-arm shuck. Linemate Zack Martin gives the defender a solid punch — and Watt has already recovered:

Chris Watt Pass Block

Watt gathers himself, showing exceptional functional strength, and reflexively takes a quick step back. He’s in position to take on the defender himself, and the quarterback gets the ball off.

Also, Watt understands his role in the offensive scheme. In the below clip for example, Notre Dame calls a run off tackle with zone blocking up front. The center reaches for the defensive tackle; Watt is charged with double-teaming long enough for the center to get position, then releasing to find the linebacker. But the defender is so quick off the snap, the center never gets good position on him. Watt releases a bit early at first, but recovers and acts decisively:

Chris Watt Recovers

Chris Watt Recovers

Seeing that he cannot release with the defender penetrating into the backfield, Watt halts his momentum and shifts his weight back to his right. He gets enough of a push on the defender’s outside shoulder that the running back is able to elude the tackle. The rest of the Stanford defensive front rallies to bottle up the running back, but Watt’s quick thinking almost sprung the play.

Watt’s exceptional effort really complements his physical tools and football IQ. For example, Watt latches onto Stanford’s Trent Murphy in the play below. Watt drive blocks Murphy for several yards, before Murphy tries to shuck Watt aside. Watch our prospect’s reaction:

drive block

Watt locks out with his right arm and continues to push Murphy downfield. Had the running back found the crease, he might have sprung it for six.

Marcus Martin, also a third round pick, is much more powerful than Watt. But as talented as Martin is, there’s an outside chance that he never sees an NFL field. He simply hasn’t mastered the tools to ensure his success at the next level. Watt could start from his first snap of training camp.

The Chargers don’t have any kind of need at guard. To the contrary, the team runs two-deep at the position, and Watt is unlikely to push the incumbents for time his first year. This is a move for the long term: the Chargers simply liked Watt’s game enough that they didn’t want to miss out on adding him to the mix.

For all of the complimentary things I’ve said about Watt, there was a downside to the pick. Yes, Watt has some bad tape from 2012. But I’m referring to the opportunity cost of picking Watt: the Chargers passed upon on other notable players. I think they might regret it down the road, and so will fans.

For now, Tom Telesco added another talented, fundamentally sound, relentless football player to the Chargers’ roster in Chris Watt. This was a solid pick, and the offensive line’s future looks brighter because of it.

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