The five-year transformation of Steelers T.J. Watt is quite remarkable

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker TJ Watt (90) participates in organized team activities at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport0
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker TJ Watt (90) participates in organized team activities at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport0 /

The Pittsburgh Steelers found a legendary talent in the 2017 NFL draft, but most don’t realize how much T.J. Watt has changed over the years.

T.J. Watt has been a staple of Pittsburgh’s defense since the start of his NFL career. After being drafted in 2017, the Steelers have boasted a top-6 defense every year except last season.

Through his first five years, Watt has earned four Pro Bowl honors, three First-Team All-Pros, and was most recently named the AP Defensive Player of the Year. While it’s impossible not to notice Watt’s impressive accolades, fans may not have recognized the transformation his body has undergone since joining the league.

During his final season for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2016, Watt had a totally different body type. He was much thinner back then and he primarily won with speed and quickness off the edge. Watt’s role was slightly different during his college days as well. Listed at 243 pounds, he would often be an overhang defender who almost exclusively rushed from a two-point stance.

T.J. Watt #42 of the Wisconsin Badgers. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

At the NFL Combine, Watt weighed in at 252 pounds. Despite his size, he participated in some drills with off-ball linebackers. Remarkably, he still tested like an elite athlete when compared to NFL linebackers entering the draft.

When listed as an edge defender, Watt’s athletic traits were even more impressive, as he tested as a 99th percentile athlete, according to his Relative Athletic Score when using his Combine numbers.

A few months later, Watt participated in his first training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he looked relatively close to the same size he did at the NFL Combine:

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) participates in drills during training camp. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

There were reports that some teams didn’t like Watt as much as several of the other edge defenders in the 2017 NFL Draft class because of his ‘tweener’ size. Despite gaining 11 pounds of muscle from the end of his junior season with Wisconsin to the Combine weigh-in, some 4-3 teams still didn’t think he was a great fit as a full-time edge defender in their systems.

This faulty line of thinking is what resulted in Watt falling all the way to the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and 6 edge defenders being drafted ahead of him. However, Watt would quickly prove teams wrong.

Steelers star has transformed his body

Watt has since packed on muscle in each offseason and his play strength is one of his greatest attributes. Containing him one-on-one has become a nearly impossible task. In 2020, I started to notice a big transformation in Watt’s physique.

T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Watt was noticeably more muscular than he was during his final college season or at the NFL Combine. With how good he already proved to be in his first three seasons, this was a change that only seemed to help him. Watt had a career year in 15 games and finished second in DPOY voting.

It’s now been five years since Watt participated in the NFL Combine, and the transformation has been pretty dramatic. Here’s a photo of him at Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 OTAs:

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Hayward (rear) and linebackers TJ Watt (90) and Alex Highsmith (56). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

T.J. Watt’s body type now doesn’t look anything similar to what it did when he was a 243-pound hybrid outside linebacker entering the league. While the Steelers official website still has Watt listed at his NFL Combine weight of 252 pounds, it’s clear to see that the star defender is much heavier than he was at that point.

Watt is now elite when it comes to winning with power off the edge and those 4-3 teams who passed on him because they didn’t think he was a good scheme fit must be kicking themselves.

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I don’t envision T.J. Watt getting much bigger than he currently is, and I would venture a guess that his playing weight is now in the 270+ range. This clearly isn’t a bad thing, as the Steelers Team MVP has been one of the most dominant defenders and impactful players in the league over the past three years.