Markees Watts Is A Bucs' Sleeper At OLB - Sport News

Markees Watts Is A Bucs’ Sleeper At OLB

Bucs outside linebacker Markees Watts will be spending the next couple of months preparing for battle heading into next season. In a room filled with plenty of young talent and an opportunity after the release of Shaq Barrett, Watts is aiming to make his own mark and state his case for playing time in what should be a highly competitive room.

Markees Watts Is A Bucs' Sleeper At OLB

After the season concluded, Watts took some time to speak with Pewter Report to talk about how he spent much of his rookie year learning to be himself within the confines of his position and capitalizing on his opportunity to be in the league.

Who knows? He could be the Bucs’ next under-the-radar find.

Markees Watts Leaned On Vets And Realized What He Brings To The Table
For a young Buc learning the ropes of being an NFL player, it’s important to have teammates who are willing to teach and encourage. Markees Watts had that in the outside linebacker room this past season and that truly brought the best out of him. While he only appeared in seven games and did not light up the stat sheet, Watts understands what he needs to focus on to be the best pass rusher he can be.

“It’s a huge privilege to have vets that are willing to teach and lean back into you,” Watts said. “I’m sure there are a lot of rookies in a lot of situations where they have so much potential that vets aren’t too excited about giving back to them. At the end of the day, we’re all competing for the same thing.

“So I have the privilege to have vets that care about you and they’re pouring back into you as much as you would anyone else. It’s a huge privilege and learning from them, I learned from them fast. Everybody brings something different to the table.”

Looking around the locker room as players were gathering their belongings, Watts pointed out how each of the guys had a different skill set and how he discovered that he was his own player.

“I may admire Shaq [Barrett], I may admire YaYa [Diaby], Jose [Ramirez], Joe [Tryon-Shoyinka], Nelly [Anthony Nelson], Cam [Gill],” Watts added. “They all bring something different and when I got here, I started seeing how they were playing and how they were successful.

“A couple of times I tried to recreate that. I was like, ‘Well, if they’re doing that, the coach likes to see that, I need to try to do that,’ and it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t working out in my favor, and realizing that I had to be myself in pass rushing and play the game how I play it, which has brought me a lot of success now. It’s something that I can focus on, hone in on, and bring more success to so I can be more successful. I want to be active, but it’s been a privilege. Those guys are great.”

Markees Watts Was One Of Many Bucs’ Rookies In “A Special Group”
The Bucs’ 2023 rookie class was ranked after the season for how they did this year, but regardless of where they place in the eyes of outsiders, within the building, they realize just how much burgeoning talent flooded the shores of Tampa Bay. With 15 rookies suiting up for a game throughout the season, there are a lot of players who can grow together and take that experience and build off it.

Markees Watts is one of them.

“Our mentor Duke [Preston] taught us immediately that our class was a special group,” Watts said. “He let us know that there wasn’t any other team in the NFL that had as many rookies as we had. There’s no other team that’s reaching down to the youth and giving them so much responsibility and opportunity as the Bucs have us so it was a huge opportunity.

“You’re looking around, and you see there are a lot of us and nobody else has this experience but us. I took a grasp of that early on and I appreciate every last one of those guys. They’re all like real brothers to me. It’s not like college, high school, middle school, the NFL is different. It’s real brotherhood.”

As an undrafted free agent, Watts had to fight for every chance to get into a game and show that he belonged. That meant earning the trust of the Bucs’ defensive coaches and knowing the high standard of play expected for each repetition, whether in practice or on game day.

“They are such good coaches,” Watts said about the defensive coaching staff. “They are the ones that really have to chew you out. As soon as you do something wrong, you do something that you’re better than, they don’t have to speak to you about it because you know. You know their standard.

“You know that they’ve done the best job a coach can do for a player, and if you come up short, you know it’s something that you got to fix. They are that great of coaches, my coach [George Edwards], coach [Larry] Foote, and all the other coaches on the staff. They put in such great effort and they feed into us. They give us a good chance and they are coaches where like, ‘You’re set up, you’re good.”

Markees Watts Is A Sleeper Heading Into Next Season
How the Bucs go about adding to the outside linebacker position will determine a lot about whether Markees Watts is set up to have a bigger role in the future. If Tampa Bay decides to take a pass rusher in the first round at No. 26, it could keep Watts in a similar situation to last year as someone fighting for playing time against someone the team will give a longer leash to.

However, if the team does not take an outside linebacker until later in the draft or adds someone in free agency, Watts should have just as much of a chance to contribute and put his name in the hat, and he could become a real sleeper among the group.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Jason Licht did sound confident when talking about some of the in-house options the Bucs have, mainly Watts and 2023 sixth-round pick Jose Ramirez. By no means does that signify they are satisfied with where they are in the room, but it does show that both guys will be in the mix.

With limited playing time this year, Watts made his impact known when he was subbed into games and his 23.1% pass rush win rate was the best in Tampa Bay last year. By comparison, Shaq Barrett had a 15% pass rush win rate, and fellow starter YaYa Diaby checked in at a lowly 6.7%.

At 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, Watts resembles Barrett (6-2, 250 pounds) in size, and with the fact that he took over No. 58, which Barrett wore from 2019-2022. Barrett was an unheralded gem of a signing in 2019 when he came out of nowhere to record 19.5 sacks to lead the NFL that year and earn his first Pro Bowl berth.

Markees Watts showcased in a limited sample size that he has the talent, but he will be looking to put it all together over the offseason. If he does, he could quickly become someone head coach Todd Bowles can count on to be a true defensive spark and key contributor.

Maybe the Bucs don’t have to look far for Shaq Barrett’s replacement after all. Maybe he’s already on their roster.

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