The Cotton Bowl on Monday could mark the end of an era for Wisconsin football.
Every year since 2008 there has been at least one player on the team with the last name of Watt. But in the wake of a breakout junior campaign, the youngest Watt, T.J., could opt to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
“I’m solely focused on this game, a hundred percent,” Watt said when asked about his plans for 2017. “Everything that comes after this game will come after this game. I’m not worried about the future at all right now.”
If Watt does decide to leave and gets drafted, he’d be following in his two older brother’s footsteps.
J.J. was a standout defensive end after transferring in from Central Michigan prior to the 2008 season. He started for two years, and then passed up his senior year in favor of the draft, a smart move as he went No. 11 overall to the Houston Texans. In his five full years of playing, Watt has earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors three times.
The middle brother, Derek, was a four-year starter at fullback for the Badgers, and was drafted in the fifth round last April by the San Diego Chargers.
Now comes T.J., who in his first year starting at outside linebacker earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition by leading Wisconsin with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. It was an effort that has ESPN’s draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr., listing him among the top-10 draft-eligible outside linebackers, while earlier in the season Sports Illustrated cited two scouts saying he’d receive a second-round grade at a minimum if he came out this year.
“I’m excited about the opportunity of being able to sit down and taking a serious consideration of my options,” Watt said. “At the same time…I don’t think you can look into the NFL and everything else when you’ve got such a big opponent in Western Michigan in a big-time game like this. All my chips are in one basket.”
A year ago, fellow outside linebacker Vince Biegel announced right after the Badgers’ Holiday Bowl win over USC that he would be returning for his senior season. Don’t expect something similar from Watt.
“I don’t think you can put a timetable on something like that, something so serious,” Watt said. “It’ll be a big moment for me whether I come back or whether I go. Definitely going to take some time.”
Players have until Jan. 18 to declare for the draft.