Old news, but Packers screwed up on T.J. Watt

Steelers’ T.J. Watt expected to sign an extension that will make him NFL’s highest paid defender, per report

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates his sack against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 33-18.

From PackersNews.com, 2018:

It’s no longer too early to say the Green Bay Packers should have drafted T.J. Watt. Thanks, Captain Obvious.

It’s not just that Watt has been healthy, whereas Kevin King has missed almost as many games (11) as he has played (15) since the Packers selected him with their top pick in 2017.

It’s that a little more than 1½ years into Watt’s NFL career, he’s already a good pass rusher. His 10 sacks this season ties him for fourth in the NFL, and according to the Pro Football Reference database, he’s one of 23 players since sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982 to get at least 17 in his first 25 games.

That includes only six others who reached that mark since 2000: Von Miller (24½), Aldon Smith (23½), Shawne Merriman (22½), Joey Bosa (22), Clay Matthews (21½), Dwight Freeney (21) and Terrell Suggs (19½). That’s distinguished pass-rushing company.

“Even without (King’s injuries), Watt’s better,” said a high-ranking scout for an NFC team.

It’s more than fair to call out the Packers on this one. They had two priority needs in the ’17 draft, cornerback and pass rusher, and the chance to choose Watt or King when their pick came up at No. 29 overall. Both players were generally considered late first- to early second-round prospects.

It’s also an apples to apples comparison, because Watt would have been playing the same position (outside linebacker) with the Packers that he is with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers, like the Packers, run a 3-4 scheme.

It’s not that King has been a dud at cornerback. When healthy enough to play, he has played well. This season when he and this year’s first-round pick, Jaire Alexander, have been on the field at the same time, the Packers have covered well. The problem is, because of injuries, the two have been in the same starting lineup only twice. Chances are, King (hamstring) won’t play again this week against Minnesota.

Regardless, the Packers would have been better off taking Watt, because pass rushers are harder to find.

Former general manager Ted Thompson had his chance when the Packers’ pick came up at No. 29 overall, but instead traded back four spots and picked up the first pick of the fourth round. The Steelers took Watt with the very next selection, No. 30. Thompson drafted King three picks later, with the first selection of the second round.
—Packers News, Nov. 24, 2018

WHAT ABOUT KEVIN KING?

Rob Reischel covers the Packers for Forbes.com. Last month he wrote:

The oft-injured King missed five games with a quadriceps injury during a disappointing 2020 season.

King was penalized six times in 2020, broke up just five passes and didn’t have an interception. Opposing quarterbacks had a 115.0 passer rating when throwing at King, and according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a completion rate of 70.3%.

King then had one of the poorest performances in Packer playoff history when he allowed two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game vs. Tampa Bay, including a 39-yarder to Scotty Miller with one second left in the first half. Making matters worse, King’s pass interference penalty with just less than two minutes left in the game prevented Green Bay from getting the ball back.

King’s lousy 2020 hurt him in free agency, and the Packers eventually brought him back on a one year, $5 million deal.

Career to date: King has missed 23 of 68 games with a variety of injuries since coming to Green Bay in 2017. Those injuries include shoulder, concussion, groin, hamstring, a second shoulder, and a quadriceps in 2020.

The physical nature of the game has taken a toll on King’s performance, too. King ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the 2017 NFL Combine, but didn’t show any of that speed during a rough 2020 season.

Outlook: Although the Packers brought back the much-maligned King for a fifth season, there’s no guarantee he can hold off rookie first round draft choice Eric Stokes.

Stokes ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds at Georgia’s pro day, a time that’s believed to be the fastest in the 2021 draft. Stokes also had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches and posted a 10-8 broad jump. 

Stokes has a lot to learn, but is clearly the future at the position. It seems likely Stokes will pass King at some point. The only question is when?

—Forbes.com, July 14, 2021

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