As many receiving yards per route run as Jerry Jeudy. A higher yards per carry than Travis Etienne. More yards per kick return than Devin Hester. Christian Watson has seemingly come out of nowhere to impress at the Senior Bowl, but the tape has been selling this story for years.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the former two-star recruit and national champion from North Dakota State who is putting up these statistics in an unbelievable 6-foot-4 body.
First, the body. At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds with 32 ¾’ inch arms, Watson fits into the Michael Pittman-mold of an extremely tall and somewhat lanky receiver with above-average length, but also adds hands that are almost a full inch larger than Pittman’s.
Next, the speed. The NDSU product was tracked at 20.71 mph in the Senior Bowl by Zebra, but has hit 23 mph on college GPS trackers. How fast is this? In the six years of Next Gen Stats data, only two players have broken the 23-mph barrier – Tyreek Hill and Raheem Mostert. Watson may not have the instant acceleration of these two stars, but his long speed can be just as deadly and a prime reason for converting catches of 20+ yards into TDs at a higher rate than AJ Brown, Justin Jefferson, or Calvin Ridley in college.
So why has this size/speed phenom flown under the radar until now?
As an All-American at both WR and KR with a former NFL player for a father and a brother in the FBS, one would think he’d be a staple in early big boards. However, a few negatives have hampered his hype. Most notably, the North Dakota State offense isn’t conducive to huge receiving stats.
With an offensive attack that harkens back to the 1950’s with only a 33.9% pass rate, Watson hasn’t broken 50 catches or even 900 receiving yards in a season despite producing three of the five best receiving seasons in the school’s past seven years. Additionally, he’s had some struggles with injuries, missing two games in 2018 after knee surgery and missing almost the entire 2021 playoffs due to a hamstring issue. Finally, his hands are not a finished product. Although he flashes the ball skills to elevate over receivers or get his feet down on the sideline, Watson has struggled with 16 career drops and only a 30% catch rate on contested targets due to inconsistent tracking and concentration.
Beyond the physical attributes and past the issues with injuries and ball skills, Watson has the underlying traits to be successful in the league. A high-effort, tough blocker who shows up in big situations, Watson surprised at the Senior Bowl with a highly-flexible, deceptive release to go along with above-average instincts and IQ to attack the blindspots of defensive backs, vary his tempo, and find holes against zone coverage.
At the end of the day, Christian Watson has the toughness, motor, and IQ to see the field early in his NFL career at both WR and as a kick returner. He’s unlikely to put up big numbers early, particularly with needed development in ball skills and COD, but his flashes show a world-beater out wide who could eventually make Pro Bowls.