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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OLB Markees Watts: 'The Chip on my Shoulder Just Got Larger'

From going undrafted and unsigned to making the final 53-man roster, Bucs outside linebacker Markees Watts has continued to defy the odds stacked against him

Watts Story

Markees Watts was not one of the 259 players who heard their name called during the 2023 NFL Draft, and in the ensuing hours, was not among the 400-plus undrafted rookies to sign as free agents during the frenzy. Watts only received offers for a tryout from the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowing him to attend their rookie minicamps for a weekend. If he made his presence felt, Watts could engender trust and earn a spot on the 90-man training camp roster. 

The Jets passed on the edge rusher, only fueling Watts' desire to compete. The experience and feel for the speed of an NFL practice fostered growth and built confidence. Following his arrival in Tampa Bay, Watts made an impression. 

"I came here as a tryout – everybody knows that – I had one opportunity, and I had the chance to get off that transit on the way here and it was breathtaking to see the facility and I thought, 'This is the place to be. I want to be here.' To go out and make that work and then to have another opportunity to be on the team to make the 53-man roster, is unreal," Watts described. "I owe it to them. I feel like I owe the general manager. I feel like I owe the head coach, my position coach and my teammates because they believed in me not once, but twice, so I want to make it up to them." 

Once Watts made his way onto the 90-man camp roster, the odds were once again stacked against him. The Bucs had two players returning from injuries in Shaq Barrett and reserve Cam Gill, along with a room already featuring incumbent former first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and recently re-signed Anthony Nelson. Tampa Bay also loaded up during the draft, selecting two outside linebackers to fortify the team's pass rush, including third-round pick Yaya Diaby and sixth-rounder Jose Ramirez. 

Several weeks ago, Head Coach Todd Bowles disclosed that the depth at outside linebacker would create some of the most challenging decisions when cuts were made. Not only did Watts shine during the offseason workout program, but he also raised his stock during the preseason slate, solidifying a place on the final roster. 

In the preseason opener against Pittsburgh, Watts sacked the quarterback and knocked the ball loose. Although the Steelers recovered the fumble, the effort play drew the attention of onlookers. Watts got underneath the pads of Steelers' first-round pick Broderick Jones and drove him backwards into the quarterback's lap for the sack, knocking the ball out. Then in Week Two against the Jets, Watts was a disruptive force. He caused consistent havoc in the backfield, including a sack on Tim Boyle that was negated by a teammate's penalty. Watts showcased a diverse rush plan with a variety of moves including power, an inside spin and a long-arm fake to the outside. Watts plays with a high motor and relentlessness, churning his legs. 

"He really jumped off the tape that first time we had him in here for a tryout because he is gumpy," General Manager Jason Licht said. "He plays about this low to the ground [motions with hand], he is very explosive off the edge, he is smart, he plays hard and he has natural power. He has a big upside, so we are very excited about him." 

Watts concluded his collegiate tenure at the University of South Carolina as the team's all-time  sack leader (21.5), breaking the previous feat set by former teammate, Alex Highsmith. He did not have the size measurables that defensive coordinators covet at the position (6-foot-1, 240 pounds), but his power and quickness are evident on the field. Throughout the preseason, Watts has been the second highest-graded rookie by Pro Football Focus with a 91.7 grade, coming in behind only Will Anderson Jr., the third overall pick and the first defensive player taken in the 2023 draft.

Watts has made the most of every opportunity on the gridiron and has continued to develop at the pro level by gaining a refined understanding of leverage to set the edge. The rookie will add another dimension to the Bucs' pass rush and weapon for Todd Bowles to unleash in 2023. 

"The chip on my shoulder just got larger," Watts stated.

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