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Vikings Next Man Up: DT Armon Watts

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Watts had a surprisingly good rookie year - can he continue to improve?

NFL: DEC 15 Vikings at Chargers Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Vikings drafted defensive tackle Armon Watts last year in the 6th round, #190 overall, as a developmental project. He had only one year as a starter at Arkansas, but he made the most of it and showed both good traits and progress in his technique.

At 6’ 5”, and a little over 300 pounds, Watt could play either nose tackle or 3 technique for the Vikings if called upon, but it looks like he’s being groomed as a more of a rotational nose tackle on passing downs.

#96 - DT Armon Watts

During the pre-season, Watts performed pretty well against opposing 2nd and 3rd stringers, showing good pass rush efficiency (8 pressures on 58 pass rush snaps), along with good tackling grades and decent run defense. As a 6th round pick with a bunch of competitors along the defensive line for a roster spot, Watts was on the bubble at the end of training camp. But after the final cuts were announced, Watts found himself with a roster spot.

Apparently Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson liked what he saw in Watts. He must have liked his college coaching too, as this year he hired Watts’ coach Imarjaye Albury from Arkansas to be his assistant.

Like many backups for the Vikings last season, they didn’t get a lot of snaps until the Bears game week 17, which allowed a more extended look at how they’re developing. For Watts, he didn’t get any snaps until week 10, and averaged about a dozen or so per game after that, until week 17 when he had 45 snaps.

Watts was the highest graded player on defense for the Vikings in the Bears game, which contrasted sharply with his defensive tackle linemate, Jaleel Johnson, who was the lowest graded player on defense. Defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes was mid-way down the list. Those were the only three tackles that played that game.

#96 NT Armon Watts Week 17 2019 Game Notes

Looking at Watts’ performance vs. the Bears week 17, a few things stand out. First, he does a good job often times of effectively plugging up his gap, either helping to string the play out wide, or forcing a cut back from the running back. He doesn’t always make the tackle of course, and sometimes other defenders are late to the party, but he nevertheless makes a positive contribution defensively most of the time.

On the downside, there were plays that he was effectively taken out by a single blocker, which as a nose tackle shouldn’t happen. You should be able to at least hold your own and plug the gap in those situations, and even get off the single block to help make the play. In the case of double-teams, you’re simply occupying two guys in order for other defensive linemen or linebackers to make the play. Watts was able to split a double team on one run, however, making a nice tackle for loss.

So there is some improvement needed for him to become more consistent as a run defender, but as a rookie with only a year of experience in college, that is to be expected.

It appears that Watts has the arm length (33 3/8”) where he’s not at a disadvantage among interior linemen, but he could do a better job hand-fighting most of the time, to prevent blockers from getting to his chest and latching on. He appears to have the upper body strength to hold up well against defenders, but doesn’t always make the most of coiling his lower body strength under him to generate push. Instead, he can get his pad level high at times which compromises his leverage ability.

These are issues that practice and coaching can help correct. He doesn’t have a lot of playing time yet between college and pros, so hopefully he will continue to improve with more reps.

As a pass rusher, Watts didn’t have a lot of opportunities in the Bears game as a nose tackle, particularly with shorter passes. But when the QB held the ball a bit longer, Watts was able to generate some pressure a couple times, including a nice strip on a twist move which led to a sack. He had one other pressure as well.

Overall Watts looks poised for more reps in rotation with the Vikings new nose tackle Michael Pierce, particularly on passing downs, and could see a much more expanded role next season in that role. Jaleel Johnson, who has worked in rotation in previous seasons, has been going downhill and has never really been an asset along the defensive interior. Depending on the quality of any draft picks or possible free agent acquisitions, Johnson could be cut by the end of training camp. Jalyn Holmes is running out of time to prove himself too.

Bottom line, Armon Watts has an opportunity to move up the depth chart at defensive tackle, maybe even taking some reps at 3-technique or maybe a 5-technique if that presents itself, if he’s able to continue to develop and improve his technique.

He’s making good progress so far.

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Should Armon Watts be the primary backup in rotation with Michael Pierce at nose tackle this season?

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