Christian Watson NFL Draft Profile
Welcome back to draft season! This is my first profile of the season and I am juiced about that. I’ve been diving into this receiver class the last few weeks and wanted to write about one of my favorite prospects, and that is Christian Watson out of North Dakota State.
From a broad perspective, the 2022 class lacks a true top dog. There is no Ja’Marr Chase or CeeDee Lamb for me. However, there is a strong group of depth receivers that should stack the second and third rounds rather nicely. That’s where players like Watson should enter into the conversation.
Watson is a fifth-year senior who leaves Fargo as one of the most decorated receivers in program history. He earned all-conference honors in the Missouri Valley conference five different times for his work as a receiver and kick returner. He finished top ten in program history in receptions (10th) and yards (8th) and tied the program record with two kickoff returns for touchdowns (two). Had it not been for the Covid season, and a hamstring injury this past season that forced him to miss four games this past season, he would have finished much higher on those lists. He finished his career accumulating 105 receptions, 2,140 yards, and 14 touchdowns. He also had 26 kickoff return attempts across his four years for 686 yards, two touchdowns, and an average of 26.4 yards, including a whopping 33.8 in the 2020 season. During his time as a Bison, Watson was a part of four national championship teams, appearing in 11 playoff games along the way.
Both of the Chargers and Rams could be looking to inject some youth and playmaking into their receiving rooms this year. Each team has a lot of uncertainty in their respective receiver rooms due to the pending free agencies of Mike Williams and Odell Beckham Jr, as well as the injuries to Beckham and Robert Woods.
Top Three Player Traits
Watson checked in at the Senior Bowl at 6’4 and 211 pounds, with 32 ¾ inch arms, and a 77 ⅛ wingspan. Every team is looking for that outside X receiver that can be a ball-winner on the outside via fade, go, and slant routes and Watson certainly fits that bill. He uses that frame to body smaller defenders (which is mostly everyone) off the line and at the high point of catches. Once he does catch the ball, his size and length make him a really tough tackle after the catch.
Just finished watching Christian Watson.
Things I loved:
🏈 NDSU found many ways to get him the ball
🏈 has great change of direction
🏈 consistently found ways to create deep separation
🏈 can separate at all 3 levels pic.twitter.com/EIxWOxTfdm
— matty (@mattybigchest) February 17, 2022
He probably won’t wow anyone at the combine with a crazy vertical jump (supposedly around the 31-inch mark) but his sense of timing and physicality give him a strong projection for red-zone productivity.
Despite his size, Watson moves like a smaller slot and gadget receiver. I mean when was the last time you heard about an All-American kickoff returner that brought a 6’4 frame to the table? Watson is very comfortable with the ball in his hands, and I loved how the Bison would get him involved in a variety of ways. So many college teams put players into a box and it would have been easy for them to put Watson exclusively into that ball-winner kind of role but they also used him frequently via jet sweeps, end-around, and swing passes.
There are a few size, weight, speed X receiver prospects in this class, including former USC standout Drake London, Georgia’s George Pickens, and Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce. Watson’s movement skills are right up there with both of those players, which you really wouldn’t guess from an FCS prospect. His ability to stay under control and remain balanced in particular is second to none. Very rarely will you see him lose his balance or slip on an in-breaking route, which is more than you can say for most of those players. Watson is always in control, and that matters at the next level where so many passing concepts are based on timing and trust with the quarterback.
Route Running And Separation
Where Watson has an edge on the other receivers in his class is in the route running department. For my money, Watson is the best of the tall receivers in this department. He is comfortable running every route in the route tree, including choice routes in the short areas. As I said, the Bison put him in a position to do everything and I think it paid dividends for his draft stock.
Sometimes when you watch a taller receiver go into a setting like the Senior Bowl, they can struggle with all of the little things on a day-to-day basis because they’re just not used to running every single route. That was not the case for Watson, who arguably was the best player of the entire week. He was unrecoverable all week long and it didn’t matter if he was running whip, stick, slant, go, fades, or corner routes. He did it all at a high level and made life hell for those defensive backs.
Three Traits To Improve Upon
Physicality After The Catch
This might seem a little contradictory given the things I wrote above, but I don’t love Watson’s mentality after the catch. Especially with how he seeks out contact as a blocker, and how adept he is at bodying defenders throughout the process of completing the catch. I think he has solid vision in short area catch situations, but I wish he would seek contact out more frequently. London is a bully in the process of finishing the catch, and afterward for comparison’s sake. Watson has the size and frame to be a certified bully, but I need to see that mentality translate to after the catch as well.
Watson displays such an innate ability with the little things that the number of drops that he had surprised me. He had seven drops in 2020, and five this past season. The drop percentage decreased from 28% in 2020 to 10% in 2021 which is a good sign, but seeing that high of a number in 2020 is still troubling. The improvement is notable, but the problem is that it simply seems to be a problem of concentration or lack of focus rather than ability. There were a couple of instances where he dropped wide-open passes that could have been big plays for his team. He’ll have to clean that up in the NFL.
Like a lot of small school prospects, Watson lacks a strong resume against elite competition. He showed he belonged in Mobile by dominating the Senior Bowl competition, but it’s totally possible that the speed of the NFL proves to be a big adjustment for him. The small school argument shouldn’t hurt his draft stock in my opinion, but it should affect the expectations placed upon him wherever he is drafted. I believe he has the skill set to be effective from the jump, but that doesn’t always happen with FCS prospects.
Watson’s size and athleticism could separate him from the second pack of wide receivers in this class. He is getting a small amount of first-round hype right now, but he likely ends up being a second or third-round selection. I believe he will be best suited to be a team’s WR3 initially, with a plan to elevate him to a more significant role in the future. As a University of Utah alumni, it was hard for me not to see a little Tim Patrick in Watson, although Watson is a more fluid athlete. Other Chargers fans have compared him to Tyrell Williams and I can see that as well. Teams looking to add size and explosiveness would be wise to take a long look at adding Watson to the fold. From a Chargers perspective, I would still consider adding him even if Williams returned.