#2 Bryce Watts, CB, UMass (R-Jr.) — 5’11” 185 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Bryce Watts||5112/185||9 1/8″||31″||76 7/8″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Elite long speed consistently shows up when tracking down ball carriers from the weak side or closing to the catch point from out of phase
— Consistently shows elite effort in rallying to the football on a play to play basis, never takes plays off and consistently helps limit explosive plays
— Great physicality and technique as an open field tackler, does a great job of limiting YAC
— Quick trigger in defending the run game, screen game, and quick passing game, trusts his eyes and closes downhill with rapidly
— Comfortable locating and playing the football downfield when in phase, plays through the hands well to separate receivers from the football at the catch point
— Plenty of special teams experience, has all of the traits to become an effective gunner and provide spark to kick coverage units
— Has solid hips to complement his great straight line speed
— Solid click and close ability when driving routes from off coverage
— Played arguably the best game of his 2021 season in a road opener against Pitt, showing his ability to compete against top competition
— Played the field corner spot at UMass, should ease his transition to defending NFL hashes
— Has a tendency to open the gate prematurely in press coverage, relying on his superior athleticism to stay in phase with receivers
— Lack of starting experience and ideal ball production at the collegiate level could lead to a significant learning curve in his transition to the next level
— Will pedal too quickly at the snap from time to time, taking himself out of position to contest quick game routes
— Will likely need to continue filling out his frame to deal with bigger receivers at the next level
— Could stand to improve mechanics in his crossover run, was noticeably more comfortable in a backpedal
— Was part of a rotation in the secondary, did not play every snap in his lone starting season at Umass
— 72 tackles 2 INTs 13 PDs
— 2021: 43 tackles 1 INT 5 PDs
— Appeared in 25 games and made 12 starts at Virginia Tech before transferring to North Carolina and sitting out the 2019 season
— Has two seasons of full time starting experience, those being 2018 at Virginia Tech and 2021 at Umass Amherst
— Attended the East-West Shrine Bowl but did not participate in practices or the game with a minor injury
After an active free agency period, in which the team signed former Buffalo Bill Levi Wallace before resigning Ahkello Witherspoon after his productive finish to the 2021 season, Colbert and company opted to forgo addressing the cornerback position in the draft. Rather, the team opted to sign a pair of talented undrafted free agent corners in USC’s Chris Steele and UMass Amherst’s Bryce Watts, the latter of whom is the subject of today’s profile. Also of note, the team signed free agent safety Damontae Kazee, who has some experience playing the slot in his previous stops with Atlanta and Dallas, compiling seven forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, and 17 passes defended during his five year NFL career.
In Bryce Watts, the team signed a well traveled player with starting experience at both Virginia Tech and later at UMass Amherst, where he caught the attention of NFL scouts with an impressive performance in the teams’ season opener at Pittsburgh. While his technique, particularly in press coverage, could use refinement, Watts is a high level athlete at the position with elite speed, quick trigger ability, noticeably fluid hips, and physicality when defending the run game and tackling the catch. He also put some great reps on tape as a gunner this past season, where he will likely need to earn a job to supplant either Justin Layne or James Pierre on the back end of the roster.
When evaluating Bryce Watts 2021 UMass film, the two traits that immediately jump off the tape are his noticeably explosive game speed and his maniacal effort in chasing the football on a play to play basis. In the two clips below, the first of which came from a road matchup at Florida State this past season, with the other coming from a 2018 home matchup against Marshall, Watts unrelenting effort in pursuing the football is on full display. On both reps, Watts unrelenting effort in pursuing the football and arriving at the point of contact with physicality help keep explosive runs out of the end zone, giving his team a chance to defend a shortened field.
While Watts undeniably needs to work harder to stay square in his press coverage reps, his combination of speed and hip mobility allowed him to effectively match receivers from press coverage, where his ability to quickly diagnose and drive routes helped him play the catch point. In the minutemen’s sole win of the season, a 27-13 home victory against an FBS opponent in UConn, Watts secured his lone interception of the season.
After aligning in press coverage and giving ground with a mirror technique, Watts opens his hips into a crossover run toward the sideline, engaging in a two hand jam, feeling the receiver settling at the sticks, and undercutting the route to secure a turnover and set his team up with a goal line opportunity. While he is far from a finished product at this stage of his career, Watts hip mobility and long speed should give defensive backs coach Teryl Austin plenty of tools to work with heading into camp.
While he can struggle to locate the football downfield at times, when he is able to play the football from in phase, Watts has shown the ability to use his length and physicality to play through the hands and separate receivers from the football. Below, in the 2021 season opener against Pittsburgh, guarding a talented receiver in Jordan Addison, Watts turns to locate the football before extending to punch through the receivers pocket, finishing with physicality through the ground to secure the pass breakup.
Watts’ combination of length, leaping ability, and concentration downfield help him routinely contest the catch point, while his speed consistently makes it tough for receivers to generate downfield separation.
Another solid trait in Watts’ game is his quick trigger ability coming downhill against the run and screen game, consistently trusting his eyes and showing no hesitation en route to arriving at the point of contact with physicality. Below against Pittsburgh, Watts keys Kenny Pickett, diagnosing a three step read before breaking downhill immediately, flying in unblocked, and shooting low to deliver a physical hit and secure an impactful tackle for a loss.
Routinely this past fall at UMass, Watts was able to disrupt opponents screen games through keying quarterbacks and triggering quickly, while also doing a great job of tackling the catch to limit YAC and serving as a contain player in the run game. Physicality is a luxury at the cornerback position, and Bryce Watts is certainly not lacking in that facet of his game.
Regardless of any potential upside at the cornerback position, Watts’ path to secure a spot on the backend of the roster centers around his ability to contribute on special teams coverage units, where he profiles well as a gunner. On the rep below, once again from the season opener against Pittsburgh, Watts comes from his left gunner spot, shedding his block at the line of scrimmage before closing on the returner rapidly, breaking down, and finishing with a nice form tackle, allowing the returner no chance to get downhill.
While James Pierre has performed admirably in the gunner role since joining the team in 2020, if Watts can prove to be a difference maker in that role during camp and preseason, he could certainly get Danny Smith in his camp, which would go a long way toward securing a roster spot.
As I mentioned earlier, Watts still has plenty of room to develop in press coverage, where he can get himself into trouble by opening the gate prematurely and allowing free releases at the line of scrimmage. Below, against Pittsburgh, Watts aligns in press coverage at two yards depth, immediately opening toward the sideline into a crossover run as the receiver works an outside speed release.
As the receiver works downfield, Watts is never able to re-route the receiver toward the sideline, allowing room for the quarterback to work along the sideline, away from Watts body, where the receiver is able to make a nice contested catch. While Watts is an extremely high level athlete, he will need to learn to stay square and work to get hands on and disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage, particularly in the NFL where most receivers are extremely high level route runners.
At this stage of his career, Watts is far more comfortable in man coverage assignments than he is in zone coverage, where he is noticeably more stiff in his crossover run than he is when operating out of a backpedal. Similarly, he can often get his eyes caught in the backfield and drift too far downfield when his cushion has not been threatened, leading to some easy completions on shallow and intermediate routes.
Below, working a deep ⅓ assignment in a Cover 3 scheme, Watts is not set at the snap, forcing him to bail quickly without proper vision on the #1 receiver, allowing the receiver to work into his blind spot and break off for an easy reception just past the sticks. In his transition to the next level, Watts will both need to work on getting comfortable and breaking out of his crossover run, as well as continuing to improve his patience and vision in zone coverage to keep himself in phase to contest the catch point at all three levels.
Overall, Bryce Watts offers some great tools for Teryl Austin and company to work with as a developmental cornerback, as well as the potential to compete for special teams snaps in camp and preseason. Currently, he’s shown plenty of ability to disrupt receivers and compete at the catch point in man coverage, but will need to continue developing his vision and technique in zone coverage to become a more complete cornerback.
In terms of a pro player comp, Watts reminds me a bit of current Los Angeles Charger Michael Davis, a former UDFA out of BYU who has translated a successful high school track career into a productive stint with the chargers. Similarly, Watts is an extremely high level athlete who is continuing to develop as a cornerback, but has put some great reps on tape in multiple stops at the collegiate level.
He’ll compete with James Pierre, Justin Layne, and Chris Steele for a back of the roster cornerback spot, with the job most likely going to the player most equipped to provide special teams reps as a rookie. Regardless, I’d expect Watts to create some splash plays in camp and the preseason, making him a solid candidate for the practice squad if he’s unable to crack the roster. Below, I’ve linked some clips from his spring ball practices at UMass, where his full set of traits is on full display.
Depot Draft Grade: 6.9-Backup/Special Teamer(5th round)
Games Watched: at Pittsburgh(2021), at Florida State(2021), at New Mexico State(2021), vs UConn(2021), vs Marshall(2018)