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Steelers All 90: Armon Watts Ready to Raise Level of DL Depth

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Steelers DT Armon Watts
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Armon Watts at OTAs on May 25, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

For the second straight season, defensive tackle Armon Watts is getting used to a new team, after joining the Pittsburgh Steelers this spring on a one-year free agent contract.

He also had a one-year free agent contract last year, when he left the Minnesota Vikings for a season with the Chicago Bears. Watts became a starter for the first time in his career, starting 12 games for the Bears, but statistically, his 2022 season was step backward.

Part of that was due to a slow-ish start with limited playing time. Watts played in less than 38% of the Bears’ snaps in the first three weeks of the season. After that, he was never below 40%, and he spent most of the season hovering between 50 and 60%.

The transition to a new squad could have been part of the reason for the slower start, but now that he’s gone through it once, it’s old hat for Watts.

“Really, I think being new to a team is really just about learning the playbook right away,” Watts said. “When camp comes, everything gets rolling.”

And anyway, that whole knowledge of the defense thing might be a little overrated when it comes to defensive tackle. Asked about the knowledge of his group during minicamp, Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar replied with a wise crack.

“You don’t have to be smart to knock somebody out,” he said.

That type of straightforwardness has endeared Dunbar to his charges, particularly the elder statesmen, who appreciate his get-to-the-point methods.

“He’s real transparent about what he wants to see out of his guys,” Watts said. “Of course, you know, we’ve got some really great vets in the room.”

It’s a good thing he’s picking up things quickly, because the Steelers defensive line situation seems pretty competitive this offseason.

Starting roles will obviously go to Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi, but behind that, Watts, fellow free agent Breiden Fehoko, returning veterans Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk, second-year youngster DeMarvin Leal and rookie Keeanu Benton are all entering training camp competing for playing time.

“Personally, I don’t really look ahead to it,” Watts said. “I’ve been in the league some time now. I know what type of things you have to bring to the table to be on a team like this, so I’m just looking forward to the season.”

94 • Armon Watts, Defensive Tackle, Arkansas
6-foot-5, 307 pounds, 26 years old, Fifth Season

AcquiredThe Steelers signed Watts to a one-year contract on April 10, 2023.

Last season: Watts played in 17 games and made 12 starts for the Chicago Bears. He recorded 35 tackles, four for a loss, one sack and two quarterback hits. He posted a career-low PFF grade of 49.2.

Watts had 11 total pressures in 249 pass-rush snaps. He split his playing time between playing the “over” and “under” tackle with the Bears in their 4-3 alignment, with 228 snaps over the A-gap and 287 snaps over the B-gap, per PFF.

Armon Watts

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Armon Watts (96) walks off the field following an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

CareerWatts was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

He started out his rookie season being inactive for the team’s first nine games, but made his NFL debut on Nov. 10, 2019 against the Dallas Cowboys, earning a half-sack in his first game.

Watts continued as a rotational player for the remainder of the season, and earned a Week 17 start against the Chicago Bears, when he had a sack, three tackles and a fumble recovery.

In 2020, Watts settled in as a rotational player on the defensive line for the Vikings, playing in all 16 games and posted a career high with 31 tackles.

He eclipsed that mark when Watts became a more-consistent starter for the first time in 2021. He started nine games for the Vikings and posted five sacks, which tied him for third on the team.

Year GP Tackles TFL Sacks QBH FF PD PFF
2019 7 13 0 1.5 1 1 1 69.7
2020 16 31 0 0.5 2 0 0 60.7
2021 17 46 3 5.0 10 2 0 61.6
2022 17 35 4 1.0 2 0 0 49.2

College: A St. Louis native, Watts was a three-star recruit coming out of Christian Brothers College High School.

At Arkansas, he took a slow path to playing time, redshirting as a true freshman in 2014 and then playing minimally in his next three seasons. Playing defensive end in the Razorbacks’ 3-4 defense, Watts was listed third on the depth chart at the start of his junior year, behind current Indianapolis Colts defensive end McTelvin Agim and Watts’ current Steelers teammate, Jonathan Marshall.

In 2018, Arkansas moved to a 4-3 defense, and Watts moved inside to defensive tackle, where he became a starter one week into the season. He played in 12 games and started 11, and was given the Dan Hampton Award for defensive lineman of the year and Paul Eells Award for perseverance by the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

Year GP Tackles TFL Sacks FF PD
2015 3 2 0 0 0 0
2016 1 0 0 0 0 0
2017 3 2 0 0 0 0
2018 12 25 8.5 7.0 3 2

Salary cap and future: Watts signed a one-year contract that will pay him $1.08 million and a $152,500 signing bonus. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the end of the 2023 season.

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