Pre-Draft Fantasy Prospect
Grade* (out of 50): 40.5
* - How well does his skill set carry over
to the fantasy game? For receivers, a player needs to be a realistic
threat for 70 catches and 1,000 receiving yards at some point
early in their career to be a candidate for a perfect grade. Positional
scarcity at the pro level is also a part of the equation.
While he may be a little light (208 pounds) for a player with
a 6-4 frame, Watson may offer the best size-speed combination of
any receiver in this draft. He does not take his size and athletic
ability for granted either, as he tracks the ball well down the
field and consistently wins at the catch point in contested-catch
situations. Perhaps the second-best part of his resume is effort
and hustle. It quickly becomes obvious that he loves football, as
he consistently torments and/or eliminates his man as a blocker.
(This clip shows
Watson sprinting from the opposite side of the field just to get
into position to block for his running back more than 60 yards down
the field.) He is every bit as physical when he has the ball in
his hands, more than willing to mix it up after the catch and when
he receives a handoff (usually on jet sweep action). Watson also
shows a fair amount of nuance as a route-runner, displaying creativity
and using tempo to create separation on short and intermediate routes.
However, his bread-and-butter is getting behind the defense on play-action
by using his large strides to eat up the cornerback's cushion and
running by him. The former two-star recruit also has some kick return
experience and even ran two of the 26 kicks he fielded over his
career for touchdowns.
As noted earlier, Watson will likely need to add some bulk if
he hopes to defeat some of the NFL's more physical cornerbacks.
FCS cornerbacks often did not bother getting physical with him at
the line of scrimmage, but some of them had success knocking him
off his route. It will not take long for NFL corners to try to do
likewise. The Tampa native boasts some of the largest hands in this
class (10 1/8"), yet he was charged with 12 drops over his
final two seasons. Unsurprisingly for a big-framed receiver, Watson
often needs extra steps at the top of his route and occasionally
is a bit slow coming out of his breaks. While level of competition
is less of an issue now than it used to be, it should be noted all
52 of his career games came against FCS competition. Watson also
has some medical issues that need to be cleared by team doctors;
he underwent multiple surgeries to repair torn cartilage in his
knee (2019) and missed three games last season with a hamstring
Watson was a late bloomer in high school, which largely explains
how he was considered a two-star athlete and why he did not receive
much attention from FBS schools until his senior year of high school.
By just about any measure, he is an exceptional athlete - even by
NFL standards. While NDSU used him out of the backfield sparingly
and occasionally on end-arounds, what he is not is Deebo Samuel
2.0, as some have suggested this spring. What he can be is a better
version of Tyrell Williams or what Martavis Bryant should have become.
Watson is going to stretch the field from Day 1 and has the ability
as well as the size to consistently win in contested-catch situations;
the fact that he is so willing and able to block is going to keep
him on the field. It is not easy to find receivers who can do all
three (block, stretch the field, win in contested-catch situations),
so Watson is almost certain to be a favorite of the coaching staff.
At worst, Watson should serve as a situational deep threat who sees
a lot of playing time on early downs and near the goal line as a
rookie. It is fair to wonder if he is going to need most of his
first year to adjust to the physicality of NFL cornerbacks and if
that is what keeps him in a situational role. A more likely outcome
is that he uses the spring and summer to bulk up to around 215 pounds
and emerges as his new team's primary deep threat by the end of
next season. While his drop rate is a concern (13.3 percent career,
10.4 in 2021), teams are going to hit by taking insanely athletic
players who love the game much more often than they miss.
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now. Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He
is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.