NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: North Dakota State WR Christian Watson

Christian Watson

From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling one of the biggest risers in this year’s pre-draft process, North Dakota wide receiver, Christian Watson. 

#1 Christian Watson, Wide Receiver, North Dakota State (R-Sr.) – 6041, 208 lbs.

MEASUREMENTS

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Christian Watson 6041/108 10 1/8″ 32 1/2 77 5/8″
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.36 1.46 N/A N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
11’4″ 38.5″ N/A

The Good

— Great size and length – 6’4″, 32 1/2″ arms
— Elite speed confirmed at NFL combine (4.36 40-yard dash)
— Smooth athlete for his size, moves like he’s 5’11”, not 6’4″
— Dynamic player scoring through air, on the ground, and in the return game
— Speed and acceleration help win vs press
— Big play threat averaging over 20 yards per catch in his career
— Great ability tracking deep balls
— Functional strength to play through contact
— Drew a ton of defensive pass interferences on deep passes
— Kickoff return ability: First Team All-American as a kick returner in 2020
— Shows want to and knowledge how to block in the run game and away from the football

The Bad

— Ran a limited route tree in a run-heavy NDSU offense
— Doesn’t create much separation on intermediate routes vs man
— Takes too many steps at the top of his routes, makes him slow out of breaks
— Played at FCS school, not playing against top competition every week
— Will need to broaden release repertoire at the next level
— Some concentration drops, especially on routes over the middle

Bio

— 104 rec., 2134 rec. yards, 20.5 ypc, 14 rec TDs
— 49 rushes, 392 rushing yards, 8.0 avg., 2 rushing TDs
— A part of 4 National Championship teams
— 2021 Associated Press All-America Second Team (WR)
— 2020-21 Associated Press All-America First Team (All-Purpose)
— 2020-21, 2021 All-MVFC First Team (WR)
— 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Participant
— Father, Tim, played at Howard University and was a safety in the NFL for the Chiefs, Giants and Eagles from 1993 to 1997
— Brother, Tre, played linebacker at the University of Illinois and University of Maryland, spent time in NFL and XFL
— 2017 graduate of H.B. Plant High School, honor roll student

— University Studies major

Tape Breakdown

Christian Watson entered the 2022 pre-draft process as a general sleeper at the wide receiver position if you knew him at all. After stellar weeks at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine alike, he’s no longer an under the radar prospect. Let’s take a look at what Watson put on tape during his four years in Fargo that backs up his pre-draft hype.

The below clip is exactly what Watson can bring to an NFL offense. He’s lined up at the top of the screen, is able to speed release inside. Notice how even with his stem and fighting through contact he seemingly never loses his acceleration downfield. He finally is able to break free from the contact and track the deep throw down for a 60-yard touchdown. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better deep ball tracking receiver in this year’s class.

 

Let’s take a look at another deep post by Watson. It’s another play-action deep shot by North Dakota State. This time it’s actually a Yankee concept. I like this rep from Watson because of how he manipulates the leverage of the defensive back. Watch as he presses vertical, he stems outside around six yards to further carry the defensive back’s momentum outside before exploding inside. Watson is so smooth at the top of these routes, showing now stiffness for his size. The rest is history as again Watson makes a nice adjustment tracking the ball in the air and bringing it in for the score.

 

The biggest improvement Watson made to his game from his sophomore and junior year to senior year was his ability to bring in contested catches. Here, you can see him fight through a pass interference and show his hands late to bring in this ball right on the sidelines for a touchdown. Watson’s body control is something that you’ll see a good bit in these clips.

 

Another rep showing off Watson’s contested catch ability. He’s able to get the corner to bite on a hitch and go. The quarterback severely underthrows a would-be touchdown, but Watson is able to go up and pluck the ball off the cornerback’s helmet.

 

NDSU was not afraid to move Christian Watson around to create mismatches. Below, he’s lined up in the backfield running a seam. Watson finishes the rep with another contested catch over the linebacker. Watson has safely put to bed the questions of him not playing up to his size that was on his tape before his senior year.

 

NDSU also liked moving Watson into the slot to create mismatches with his speed and size that way. Below, you can see him lined up inside. He squares up the defensive back then bursts inside for the easiest release. You can see Watson easily stack the defender here. With the safety playing so shallow, if the quarterback wanted to he has a great look to lay one out here to Watson.

 

You don’t see a full route tree out of the slot from Watson, but why fix what’s not broken? The NDSU coaching staff must have liked what they saw on the first rep and told the quarterback to test it out the slot fade this time. One think you notice about Watson on reps is he doesn’t go full speed on his vertical routes because he knows he’ll outrun the arm of his quarterbacks. I strongly believe he could have stacked with speed again if he doesn’t power down around the 35. Regardless, he’s still able to use his strength to get the DB on his back. The defender panics and ends up grabbing Watson’s shoulder pad for a pass interference. A common theme on Watson’s tape.

 

Below, you see another rep where Watson has a burst release off the line but lets off the glass just as he’s about to put the DB on his back to not run out of his quarterback’s range. Then, when the ball is in the air, Watson turns the speed on enough again to stack the DB and find the football that was thrown inside. Great rep.

 

Here’s a cleaner vertical stack from Watson that he just GOES. He has a burst release inside and cleanly wins deep. The only choice the cornerback has here is to grab Watson and bring him down or it would have been another easy touchdown for Watson.

 

Watson shows his football IQ on this next rep. He’s running a go-route but notices that the defense is in cover 2. Watch as instead of running full bore he powers down right in the hole between the corner and the safety. Then shows off his body control to twirl around and make a nice hands catch on the sidelines.

 

With Watson’s speed and fluidity as a runner, it translates over to creating some nice yard after the catch. Watson runs nothing but a simple hitch route here nad with his quick turn and burst outside he’s able to show off that 4.36 speed by ruining all pursuit angles by the defense.

 

Look at the separation Watson creates thanks to his speed on this comeback. His initial burst off the line eats up the corners cushion immediately, causing him to turn and run and as soon as he does Watson breaks down for the comeback. Then, once he gets the ball in his hands he shows off how dangerous of a weapon he truly is. He sidesteps the first tackle and then uses a combination of speed and strength to add an extra 18 yards to the play.

 

We’ll look at one last rep of Watson’s YAC ability. He again gets the corner to lean upfield, respecting his speed. Then he cuts it off creating ample separation at the top of the route for the completion. Then he’s off to the races, showing off his elusiveness in the open field. It takes roughly six defenders and 30 yards to bring him down after the catch.

 

The biggest thing Watson has to work on right now is his intermediate route running. He takes far too many steps at the top of his routes. It makes him really slow out of cuts and if he continues to do this in the NFL he’ll never be open on non-deep routes against man. He takes 5-6 steps at the top of this route, that needs cut down by about half to be an effective route at the top.

 

Here’s another example of the same thing. You see how easy the corner is able to sink with the route and blanket Watson with the extra steps at the top of the route. When he’s not able to win with speed, he struggles to gain separation.

 

That’s where Watson is at his rawest, route-running ability. The good thing for him is, he’s blessed with size and speed, those are the intangibles you can’t teach. He hasn’t had to be a route technician because he could simply run by everyone at the FCS level. Route running is something he’ll learn over time at the next level as his route tree expands.

The other negative to Watson’s game that he needs to clean up is occasional focus drop. Generally speaking, Watson has good hands, but he does need to clean up some drops as seen below. This one is a little low but easily hits both hands. Think he feels the presence of the defense closing in on him and takes his attention away from catching the ball.

 

Here’s another example of a focus drop. For some reason here the rep is pretty lackadaisical. He uses his speed to get open then coasts and only puts out one hand to catch this ball when it’s well within his catch radius. Could have been another deep catch against Youngstown.

 

Let’s end this on some high notes. Watson’s speed and elusiveness make him a weapon in the run game. While I don’t see him being utilized like a Deebo Samuel or even lined up in the backfield as NDSU did, he does offer a ton in the end around and jet sweep game. Just another way to get the ball in his hands and let him go to work.

 

The other thing that I love to see from young wide receivers is their ability to play outside of structure. With Watson playing with now San Francisco 49er, Trey Lance for a year it helped him develop a lot in this area of his game. Playing out of structure and being able to find open space during the scramble drill. In the below clip, you can see Watson running a post. He realizes as soon as he looks back for the ball that his QB is in need of help and circles all the way back to the corner of the end zone. He’s able to go down and get the ball for a touchdown. Great rep.

 

I’d be remiss to not talk about Watson’s ability in the blocking game as well. Playing for a run-heavy offense like NDSU, he wasn’t going to get on the field if he didn’t embrace blocking.  An offense’s effectiveness in the run game can be greatly enhanced by receivers that buy into blocking downfield. Watson brings that to the table and then some. I’ll link to the film room below I did about his blocking at the Senior Bowl if you want to see more.

Film Room: Christian Watson Takes ‘Pride in Blocking’ And It Showed During Senior Bowl

Conclusion

Christian Watson is an extremely intriguing prospect for receiver-needy teams on day two. He’s your prototypical height, weight, speed receiver that makes offensive coordinators salivate watching their film. He reminds me a ton of Martavis Bryant coming out of Clemson and think he’ll be used similarly in his first few years in the league. He can be a plug-and-play Z receiver responsible for the front side go’s and backside posts in the offense that you can take an occasional deep shot to. However, Watson is much more complete of a “football player.” He can help in you all phases of the game and the more creative you can be the better when it comes to Watson. A coordinator and quarterback will be very happy with whoever ends up with the North Dakota State product to throw to on Sundays.

Projection: Mid-Day 2

Depot Draft Grade: 7.6 – Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)

Games Watched: vs Northern Iowa (2021), vs. Montana State (2021), at Youngstown State (2021), at South Dakota State (2021), Missouri State (2021), Senior Bowl (2022)

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