The NFL has been pretty good at finding talent, wherever it may lie.
There’s a perception that teams only need to scout the big-name football powerhouses. After all, schools that are stacked with 5-star recruits have to have done all the legwork in finding talent, right?
Well, development isn’t linear, and good players can slip through the recruiting cracks.
That’s what appears to have happened with wide receiver Christian Watson from North Dakota State. While NDSU is the unquestioned king of the FCS, it still doesn’t carry the cache of the Big 10 and SEC powerhouses, and even NDSU’s top prospects can be overlooked at the national level.
Watson was a lowly 2-star recruit out of Florida with just two years of starting experience in high school. However, he has undeniable physical traits and legitimate track speed. He made a name for himself with some development at North Dakota State and is one of the most intriguing receiving prospects in the upcoming draft.
The New York Giants will likely need to replenish their receiving corps as a part of their rebuild. Could Watson give them a big, athletic playmaker?
Prospect: Christian Watson (1)
Games Watched: vs. North Dakota (spring, 2021), vs. South Dakota (2021), vs. Eastern Washington (2021), vs. Illinois State (2021), vs. Northern Iowa (2021)
Games Played: 52
Yards (YPC): 2,140 (20.4 per catch)
Yards (YPC): 392 (8.0 per carry)
Total Touchdowns: 16 (14 receiving, 2 rushing)
Games Played: 12
Yards (YPC): 801 (18.6 per catch)
Yards (YPC): 114 (7.6 per carry)
Total Touchdowns: 8 (7 receiving, 1 rushing)
Best: Size, ball skills, athleticism, scheme and position versatility
Worst: Route running, contested catch
Projection: A third receiver with alignment versatility and the upside to start early in his career
North Dakota State’s Christian Watson has an uncommon blend of size, athleticism, and body control for the wide receiver position.
Watson has great size and length for the position, measuring 6-foot-4, 211 pounds. He also sports 32 ¾ inch arms and 10-inch hands, which give him a big catch radius and the ability to high-point the ball over smaller defensive backs.
Watson has a strong track background, competing in the long jump, triple jump, and 200m as a track athlete in high school. Watson’s speed and athleticism are evident on tape, as he is able easily stress defenses vertically and stretch the field. He also has a surprisingly strong lower body, allowing him to play through contact, both as a receiver and as a ball carrier. Watson shows very good short-area quickness and agility, with an ability to lower his hips that’s uncommon for taller receivers.
Watson played all over the North Dakota State offensive formation, taking snaps at the X, Flanker, Slot, H-Back, and Running Back positions. He was also asked to run a pretty wide variety of routes out of those positions, both using his speed to stretch the field and presenting a big target in the shallow or intermediate areas of the field. He was also schemed touches as a runner on sweeps and end-arounds to take advantage of his speed and general athleticism.
Watson is very good at locating and tracking the ball down the field, as well as making adjustments to haul in difficult passes. He often makes those adjustments very late in the rep, limiting the amount of time for DBs to react. He is a “hands” catcher who does a good job of extending to maximize his catch radius, as well as showing surprisingly good body control in adjusting to the ball.
Watson is a good ball carrier and has significant upside with the ball in his hands. He has a powerful lower body and good contact balance which allow him to run through arm tackles. He also shows good vision to pick out running lanes and anticipate defenders at the second and third levels.
Watson is still a bit raw as a receiver and has a tendency to rely on his size and athleticism over his technique. He has a tendency to use a rolling release off the line of scrimmage, rather than using varied release strategies or a crisp release with explosive acceleration. Likewise, while Watson is surprisingly good at generating separation with his quickness, can round off his routes and hasn’t had to use his route running as a weapon. He can also be a bit inconsistent in contested catch situations. Watson typically does a good job quickly securing catches before transitioning to being a ball carrier, but he can occasionally have the ball knocked out of his hands as he goes to the ground.
And while Watson is a willing blocker who was frequently asked to take on defenders in the Bisons’ rushing attack, his technique is lacking and could lead to holding calls at the NFL level.
Overall Grade: 7.5
North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson projects as a developmental receiver who would likely have to start as a “Number 3” receiver to start his career, but has the upside to be a true starter before his rookie contract is up.
Watson has an uncommon blend of size, speed, and movement skills. While he looks like a deep ball contested catch specialist, he has the potential to be much more than that with a bit of work. Watson has the athletic profile to be a well-rounded receiver, and his experience playing out of a variety of alignments would give an NFL offense a huge variety of options for using him to attack the defense.
Offenses could use Watson out of the “X”, Flanker, or Slot alignments, send him in motion, set him up with wide receiver screens, or use him as a ball carrier. We rarely see receivers with his size and the athleticism used in such a wide a variety of ways.
All of that makes Watson’s upside truly exciting in a modern NFL offense. However, he is going to need a bit of work to truly unlock his potential. Watson was able to use his size and speed to dominate FCS level cornerbacks, and he probably would have been a problem for corners in any conference in the country. But the NFL is a different animal, and he will need to continue to hone his craft to win in the pros. Watson visibly improved throughout his time at North Dakota State, but he will need to continue to do so or NFL caliber corners will exploit breakdowns in his technique.