Over the course of football history, there have been plenty of talented siblings who both played in the NFL at the same time. Peyton and Eli Manning are the most obvious example. Other notable tandems include Clay and Bruce Matthews, who between them amassed 38 combined seasons in the NFL.
Although there are dozens of brothers who both spent time in the league concurrently, the number who played on the same team is far smaller. Starting next season, T.J.and Derek Watt will join the ranks of that exclusive club, with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
T.J. Watt’s NFL career so far
T.J. began his University of Wisconsin-Madison college career as a tight end. But in his junior year, his coach convinced him to switch to a defensive position — specifically, an outside linebacker. T.J. soon proved himself a savant on the defensive end, particularly when it came to edge rushing. The Steelers ultimately drafted T.J. with the 30th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
T.J. assumed starting duties in his rookie season, racking up 54 combined tackles. 10 of those tackles were for a loss, and 13 were quarterback hits. T.J. also snagged one interception, which he returned for 17 yards.
His numbers continued to improve over the next two seasons. In 2018, he recorded a career-high with 68 combined tackles, and in 2019 he forced a career-best eight fumbles and 14.5 sacks.
The Steelers have been thrilled about the value they’ve extracted from Watt so far. He is widely considered one of the best all-around linebackers playing in the NFL. He can seamlessly shift between pass rushing and coverage. He’s proven especially good in coverage. In 2018, he recorded 218 snaps in coverage, which ranked as number two in the entire league among edge defenders.
Derek Watt’s NFL career so far
The San Diego Chargers drafted Derek in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, using the 198th pick to snag the talented fullback. He played in all 16 games during his rookie season, and started in two of them. He had four receptions for a total of 83 yards, with his longest reception coming in at 53 yards.
Derek played in every single game during his four years with the Chargers, mostly coming off the bench. In none of those seasons has Derek played more than 15 percent of the offensive snaps. His numbers reflect that relatively low usage, although he deserves credit as a special teams player, having played 78 percent of the Charger’s special teams snaps in 2019.
Reunited in Pittsburgh
In March 2020, the Steelers signed the free-agent Derek Watt to a three year deal with $9.75 million. The move struck some as surprising, especially as it made Derek the highest-paid fullback in the entire league.
Yet the acquisition makes sense if viewed as an insurance policy. T.J. will be eligible for a new contract soon, and the Steelers probably figure he’s more likely to stick around if his older brother is on the roster.
On the other hand, the Steelers may consider Derek a useful piece on his own rights, especially if playing alongside his brother can push him to the next level. It’s worth noting that the Watt brothers have a long history playing with one another. They were on the same high school team, and both played college ball for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Apparently the Steelers kept T.J. in the loop during their entire scouting process on Derek. As T.J. put it, the team basically “asked for my blessing” before moving forward to sign Derek. And of course T.J. was happy to link up with his brother again. As T.J. put it to Sports Illustrated:
“We’ve grown, we were the two that fought the most growing up and my dad always said ‘You guys can be best friends someday just wait and see.’ And we truly have become so much closer and I’m excited to be able to play with him again.”
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference