INDIANAPOLIS — Most prospects at the NFL combine are hoping to make a name for themselves.
Not. T.J. Watt, who is set to join brothers J.J., the Texans superstar defensive end returning from back surgery, and Derek, a Chargers fullback coming off a solid rookie season.
Although T.J., 22, is closer to Derek, 24, the former Wisconsin Badgers outside linebacker wants to be just like his biggest brother, who is five years older.
“Early on when J.J. first started blowing up, I didn’t know how to handle it, but now definitely I love it,” T.J. said. “My brother is the best defensive player to ever play the game, in my opinion. When you play the sport of football and you have the person as your role model a phone call, a text away, it’s special. And he does it so well and so right. I’m just trying to replicate what he does.”
J.J. loaded up T.J. with advice heading into the combine, where Watt showed off his skills Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“The biggest piece of advice I got from J.J. is just to be yourself, don’t overthink things,” T.J. said. “Just be yourself, relax and you show people who you really are.”
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, T.J. gives away an inch and 51 pounds to J.J., but he is bigger than Derek, who is 6-2, 234.
Like his brothers, he’s a grinder.
“What I bring is just my work ethic,” T.J. said. “I know it’s a cliche, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop. I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give a team everything that I have.”
T.J. was a tight end up until 2015, when he converted to linebacker.
“Playing offense most of my life, reacting to different plays and dropping into coverage was new to me,” T.J. said. “But at this point in my game I’m pretty good at everything I do.”
In his only season as a starter last year, he parlayed a big game against LSU in the opener into an excellent junior year that included 11½ sacks, 15½ tackles for loss, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
That was enough to convince him he was he ready to join his brothers in the NFL, so he put his education on hold.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL, but obviously it wasn’t a realistic option until I played at a high level in college,” T.J. said. “Once that opportunity came, I couldn’t say no.”
Scouts project him as a potential first-round pick, maybe not as high as J.J., the 11th overall pick in 2011, but far ahead of Derek, who was the 198th player drafted last year.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter where I’m drafted or who I’m drafted to,” T.J. insisted. “Obviously it would be great to be a first-round draft choice, but second, third, fourth, it really doesn’t matter. Wherever I go, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and just work as hard as I can and play ball.”
With his size, it would help for him to go to a team that plays a 3-4 scheme because he’s a good edge rusher and he can set the edge in the ground game.
“I’m only scratching the surface,” T.J. said. “I’ve only played defense for 18 or 20 months. If I can do all the things I did this last year, what can I do when I’m under the tutelage of an NFL coach?”
Citing his work ethic and bloodlines, he said his relative inexperience shouldn’t be problematic in the pros.
He said he certainly held his own against his older brothers growing up in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.
“Have I ever beat (J.J.) in any competition? He’ll admit it, too,” T.J. said. “We compete all the time growing up. I beat both my brothers in many things. They beat me in many things, as well. You’re not always going to win; you’re not always going to lose in that house. Pickup basketball growing up, flag football, anything, eating, it doesn’t matter.”
T.J.’s real sibling rivalry growing up was with Derek, who also played at Wisconsin.
“We were two years apart in age. We fought over a lot,” T.J. said. “We didn’t really see how much we cared about each other until we grew up, and now I love my brother to death.”
Derek, however, didn’t attend the combine last year, so T.J. leaned on J.J. for advice this week.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock compared the youngest Watt brother to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
“Any time you get compared to a great player like that it’s a great comparison,” T.J. said. “But I personally don’t shape my game after anyone else.”
Except J.J., of course.
“He kind of gave me the blueprint of how to do it,” T.J. said. “I’m going to try to follow in his footsteps and blaze my own trail at the same time.”