This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
Today we continue our series talking with college bloggers about potential number one draft choices of the Buffalo Bills. We are joined this morning by Bucky's Fifth Quarter blogger Adam Hoge. Hoge is one of the editors at SB Nation's University of Wisconsin blog and is here to discuss Badger defensive end J.J. Watt.
Watt's college career didn't start in Madison, though. As Hoge explains, Watt originally began his career in the MAC and took the transfer route to the Big Ten.
"There was interest [from Wisconsin out of high school], but [coach Bret] Bielema never offered him a scholarship. Watt originally committed to Minnesota, but then Glen Mason was fired so he went to Central Michigan instead."
Watt played tight end at Central Michigan, catching eight passes for 77 yards in his freshman season.
"He transferred because he wasn't willing to accept his fate as a tight end in the MAC. He wanted to play for the Badgers and he wanted to make the NFL. Bielema offered him the opportunity to walk on and earn a scholarship, something he did in less than a year before he was even eligible to play a down on the field. I mean, it seems silly to think he was ever a tight end. Look at him. He's built like a prototypical defensive end and he has an unstoppable motor."
Once at Wisconsin, as Hoge mentioned, Watt blossomed quickly into a defensive force and earned a scholarship.
"Watt's career at Wisconsin was short, but spectacular. He only played two seasons (starting every game) because he transferred and then chose to forgo his senior season. Watt racked up 36.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in just 26 games, and became the team's largest voice and best leader. Unfortunately, his last game was arguably his worst, as he only managed three tackles and one broken up pass in a 21-19 Rose Bowl loss to TCU. It was a tough way to go out, but some argue the 2010 Badgers were the best team ever at Wisconsin, and Watt was the best player on that team."
Hoge's admiration for Watt on and off the field permeated every response he gave. When discussing Watt's impact for the football team he couldn't help but discuss the type of person Watt has been off the field, too.
"It's almost impossible to overstate Watt's importance to the Wisconsin Badgers. As great of a player as he was, Watt's leadership and attitude was infectious. In seven years of covering the Badgers, I have yet to meet a more gracious person - he started setting up his charity last summer BEFORE his junior year - or a harder worker. His motto is 'Dream Big, Work Hard' and as corny as it sounds, that motto spread way beyond the Badgers. Do a Twitter search for #DBWH and you'll see how many people are using Watt's motto in their own lives. Oh, and then there's the 21 tackles for loss and seven sacks he accumulated last season."
That Rose Bowl game against TCU may dog Watt, though. In perhaps the biggest game of his college career, he came up short. Hoge doesn't see that as the big picture of Watt's ability to step up in big spots.
"Scouts may look at the Rose Bowl and see a guy who struggled in the biggest game of the season, but that wouldn't be telling the whole story. Watt's best game came against No. 1 Ohio State, and he made one of the biggest plays of the season when he sacked Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the waning seconds of a 31-30 win in Iowa City last year. There's enough evidence suggesting Watt steps up in big situations to overcome what was an unfortunate game in Pasadena."
Hoge's most memorable moment of Watt at Wisconsin also has to do with the Rose Bowl defeat.
"This isn't necessarily a good moment, but it will be the one etched in my brain forever. After the loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl, Watt sat at the podium in the postgame press conference and wore his heart on his sleeve. He cried, he apologized, and he had a look in his eyes that I will never forget. He didn't need to apologize to the fans, but he did anyway. It was the moment I knew he was leaving for the NFL, and it was the hardest press conference I have ever had to sit through."
As far as off the field, Hoge has already shared high praise but when asked directly about Watt's social life he gave glowing reviews.
"Watt doesn't have any black marks off the field. There are no stories or rumors following him around about being out late at night or getting in trouble. And if you follow him on Twitter (@JJWatt), you'll see a guy who is constantly working on getting better. This is one reason why I said back in January that he would shoot up the draft boards and could be a Top 10 pick. There won't be a single NFL scout turned off by his attitude and reputation."
As for his transitions to the NFL, the Wisconsin blogger thinks Watt has just scratched the surface.
"Watt is nowhere near peaking yet. This is a guy who was a tight end at Central Michigan just three years ago. He chose to walk on with the Badgers and earned a scholarship before even stepping on the field in a game situation. Then he had a good sophomore year playing second fiddle to O'Brien Schofield, and then an even better junior year when Schofield was gone and he got all the double teams. With NFL resources and his work ethic, it's scary to think how much better Watt can still be."
Hoge thinks Watt will endear fans not only on the field but off as well.
"He will go down as one of the more popular players to ever play for the Badgers. Watt will be a fan favorite wherever he goes."
One concern that may crop up in pre-draft discussions is an injury Watt suffered this season.
"I don't think it is anything still affecting him, but Watt suffered a minor shoulder injury at Purdue this season. After the game he told me his shoulder 'clicked in and out,' but it never appeared to be an issue the rest of the season. Still, shoulder injuries worry me in football, especially for defensive players. It's something watch."
In his closing remarks, Hoge re-affirmed several of his earlier comments while continuing to discuss his admiration for Watt. It's clear he holds him in high regard.
"I just want to reiterate that Watt is a guy who went from having no major offers out of high school to a national defensive player of the year candidate at Wisconsin in just a few years. I don't think he is anywhere near peaking yet and whichever team drafts him is getting a consistent starter at the VERY least."
Special thanks to Adam Hoge and Bucky's Fifth Quarter for answering our questions. Head over to check out his thoughts on all things Badger.