To kick off each dynasty profile from the 2022 skill position draft class, a dated positional ranking will be presented, relevant to that prospect’s position. As the profiles have been published, the rankings have evolved. The number of WRs that are either declared underclassmen or seniors exhausting their eligibility – at least the ones that have publicly declared their intention to pursue a career in the NFL – currently stands at a crowded 168. And that isn’t even an exhaustive number since the WRs who have zero chance of being drafted have already been filtered out from the very long list of those testing at a collegiate Pro Day. Without further delay, here are the top-25 WR rankings from the 2022 class as of publication:
|Class Rank||Player||College||DOB||Age (Week 1)|
|WR1||Garrett Wilson||Ohio State||7/22/00||22.1|
|WR2a||Chris Olave||Ohio State||6/27/00||22.2|
|WR5||Jahan Dotson||Penn State||3/22/00||22.5|
|WR6b||Christian Watson||North Dakota State||5/12/99||23.3|
|WR9||Skyy Moore||Western Michigan||9/10/00||22.0|
|WR13||John Metchie III||Alabama||7/18/00||22.1|
|WR15||Calvin Austin III||Memphis||3/24/99||23.5|
|WR17||Khalil Shakir||Boise State||2/3/00||22.7|
|WR19||Jalen Tolbert||South Alabama||2/27/99||23.6|
|WR22||Kevin Austin Jr.||Notre Dame||3/30/00||22.5|
The intro to Christian Watson’s profile requires a bit of a setup. Christian’s pops, Tim Watson, rejected an offer to play for the Georgia Bulldogs in favor of taking the field at safety for Howard University. He earned his “Hitman” nickname while accounting for 215 total career tackles, five INTs, 24 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles and an astonishing seven blocked punts. It’s widely believed, reinforced by a compelling amount of data, that blocking a punt is a direct path to victory. From that point-of-view, Watson can be credited with securing 30% of his school’s 23 wins during his career.
In both 1991 and 1992, Watson was selected as a MEAC All-American, First Team All-Conference and the Coca-Cola Golden Helmet Defensive Player of the Year. He would later be inducted into the Howard Bison Hall of Fame.
Graduating cum laude in 1993, he was selected with the 156th pick in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers – ahead of names such as Frank Wycheck, Eric Reid, Barry Minter, Michael McCrary, Jeff Zgonina, Brock Marion and Jessie Armstead. At the time, Tim was the second-highest player ever selected out of Howard in the draft, and stands as the third-highest today. He ended up playing seven seasons between the Chiefs, Giants and Eagles. He also played in NFL Europe (Barcelona Dragons) and in the AFL (Arizona Rattlers). After hanging up his cleats, Tim served as the president of the NFL Alumni Association’s Tampa Bay chapter.
In addition, Christian’s uncle, Cedric Watson, played defensive end for Marshall University and his brother, Tre Watson, played LB for both the University of Illinois and University of Maryland. When Christian reached his opportunity to play ball at H.B. Plant High School in South Tampa, he stood a mere 5-foot-9. Unable to crack the varsity roster for a Panthers’ squad that ranked as one of the top-300 in the nation, he finally hit a growth spurt prior to his junior season that earned him his varsity shot. It resulted in Watson standing 6-foot-2 prior to his senior season. The following table details the body development Watson would experience following that significant growth spurt:
In 2016, Watson helped Plant reach the FHSAA 7A championship game. They were ultimately blown out 45-6 by a stacked St. Thomas Aquinas roster that featured Elijah Moore, Josh Palmer, Asante Samuel Jr., Mike Harley, Al Blades Jr., Mike Epstein, Daniel Carter, Jake Allen, Kyshaun Bryan, Jordan Merrell and Jonathan Moore. Considering his QB posted a passer rating below spike level, it’s no surprise that Watson only managed a 3/27/0 line in that title game. Even with the NFL DNA passed down from his father and reportedly running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, Watson was scouted as the 501st-best receiver in the nation. He would only collect a single scholarship offer from North Dakota State, one that he would accept with appreciation.
Traveling 1,850 miles north (~26 hours by car) from his home in Tampa to his dorm in Fargo, North Dakota, the shock Watson experienced from such a drastic relocation must have been a significant event for the 18-year-old. Sitting out his first year on campus as a redshirt is entirely understandable. While he didn’t blow up as a redshirt freshman in 2018, coaches were presented with their first evidence of big things to come with his 18.3 YPR average. Easton Stick and Darrius Shepherd led the Bison to a 15-0 record and a 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington in the FCS National Championship game that season.
The time finally came in 2019 for Watson to shine, pacing NDSU in receptions (34), yards (732) and TDs (six). His 732 receiving yards were the third-most that season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC). His efforts earned him Second Team All-MVFC honors at WR. During a 2020 season in which Trey Lance only played during the one fall game for the Bison, the entire offense suffered. Watson still managed to lead the team with his 19 receptions and 442 yards. With NDSU following the example of the FBS programs devoted toward analytics, Watson maxed out at 23 MPH, consistently hitting 22 MPH on the new GPS trackers North Dakota State wore starting that season.
Watson earned his first selection as an FCS All-American (First Team) for his work as a returner. He also landed on the First Team All-MVFC as both a WR and returner. With Cam Miller and Quincy Patterson providing much needed stability at QB, Watson closed out his NDSU career in style, leading the Bison with his 43 receptions, 801 yards and seven TDs. Those numbers are in spite of missing the first three games of the FCS playoffs with a hamstring injury. He was honored as a Second Team FCS All-American at WR and First Team All-MVFC at both WR and all-purpose player.
In total, Watson played a part in four FCS championship squads during his five seasons in Fargo. Christian created the fourth-highest YPR average (20.38) and fourth-highest kickoff return average (26.38) in program history. His 2,140 career receiving yards are the eighth-most in NDSU history and he also collected the 10th-most receptions (105).
This isn’t normal body twitch and lateral COD from a 6-4 wideout. Such an easy fluid recovery too. Reps like this are why @NDSUfootball WR Christian Watson’s stock is rising coming out of Senior Bowl week. 🕹📈#BestoftheBest#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/BDlpiqzyC3— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 15, 2022
After blowing up at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Watson punched his ticket to the 2022 NFL Combine. And all Watson needed was an opportunity to show off how he could put his impressive physical dimensions (table above) to work in competition with the top athletes in the nation at his position (table below).
Watson is a true student of the game. We see our first example while breaking down his release. His get-off is down to the letter textbook. Chin directly over the front knee, with a heavy forward lean. His initial movement is optimal in approach with a considerable drive forward generated from his back leg. While the level of talent across the FCS is growing at an exponential rate, we will still need to see how Watson deals with the skill-level of NFL cornerbacks. But the physical challenges he faced during his FCS career did not present a problem.
Watson used his hands to both slap away those of his opponent and in attempts to throw off his opposition’s balance. He never even came close to being jammed up on his approach. And Watson carried that success over to his one-on-one’s at the Senior Bowl. It was quite obvious that he developed a reputation with his world-class speed, a respect that came with what appeared to be an additional level of cushion.
Examples were very rare of Watson being countered by Cover 1 while at NDSU. The tape certainly indicates he will be a quick study to single-high looks, but it’s impossible to check him off in that area at this stage. It will certainly be worth our time to check out his ability to stem NFL corners and work against Cover 1 throughout his rookie season.
Let’s shift our attention to the precision of Watson’s routes. In a game where we are seeing kids placing more-and-more emphasis into their 40 times, finding crisp route mechanics from Watson was a welcomed sight. It’s no stretch to declare the explosion into his 90 degree turns as being as good as any in the WR class. To the extent that NDSU really missed out on some golden opportunities in deploying Watson. Is he one of the road-runners of separation in the ‘22 class? You may rely on it. Just recognize that Watson is far more than that.
It’s understandable why the Bison would keep sending Watson on flys and other verticals when the returns were diamonds. But Watson has worked his ass off to develop a collection of impressive route mechanics that just were not tapped into at an appropriate level. It’s important to note that North Dakota State ran the ball on a touch under 70% of its offensive snaps last season. It speaks to the type of factors that led to the limitations in Watson’s production. And the success of the team really shines over the fact that Bison coaches missed out on their chance to tap into the complete extension of skills from the finest WR to ever play for the program.
Make sure you are seated for this statement: Watson’s acceleration might be the most explosive example in the class. He is every bit as fast as Chris Olave and Jameson Williams. On open releases — something future NFL DCs will want to entirely avoid — Watson becomes a blur of a human being. And you can tell that CBs already know what’s coming. Forget stemming, corners are already showing their intentions toward turning their hips at the snap to try to run with Christian.
Let’s just avoid getting too carried away, the kid is only human. With all of the speed and acceleration one person could ask for, Watson will improperly track some of his throws. We have a few examples where he lost sight of the ball’s path, forcing him toward fruitless, last-second adjustments. However, when it all comes together, it’s a thing of pure beauty. While Watson did stack tighter coverage aggressively, he was rarely required to extend his approach that far with the level of separation he created. The team that truly appreciates what Watson brings to the table and is able to match him up with a QB who knows how to manipulate a defense will have a continuous formula for explosion.
Jumping floors to his ball skills, you might want to hold the phone before you rush out to make him your new WR1 of the ‘22 class. He deserves considerable credit for focusing all of his efforts into collecting throws with his hands. But therein lies the problem. Reliable, strong, soft… these are not the appropriate clichés that should be used to describe Watson’s hands. In total, Watson dropped a collection of throws that eliminated at the very least 152 receiving yards from his production last season.
We see wideouts jump to the NFL with considerable drop issues every year. We also have a long list of success stories from individuals overcoming those issues after applying considerable time in conjunction with a JUGS machine. And we also have those who went on to successful careers in spite of never overcoming their butter fingers. Watson doesn’t hesitate to throw his big frame through the air to dive for a throw. With his body in motion, Watson can slap the jumbotron with his impressive hops en route to high-pointing his targets.
After recognizing that his QB was in trouble inside the five, Watson instinctively put his body on the opposing corner to wait for his scrambling QB to get in position to deliver a throw. Similar to the best improvisers in the class (Drake London, Jameson Williams and Chris Olave), Watson applied a shove to his coverage to create space, clearing plenty of space for a scramble drill TD.
That description accounts for the only example of scramble adjustment work from the entire ’21 season for Watson. In fact, a quickish examination of the available games from his entire career could not offer up another instance. With that in mind, it’s simply impossible to evaluate Watson’s improvisational skills from that single example.
Make no mistake, Watson will be the most highly sought after kick returner in the upcoming draft. Another of his list of impressive traits is popping right back to his feet after taking some monster hits over the middle. Watson will carry his path right over the middle without a second of hesitation. He also unleashes a nasty stiff arm using his nearly 79-inch wingspan to create plenty of space to elude tacklers. It may just be as functional as Treylon Burks’. In addition, make the proper preparations, as we will see Sunday problems created by Watson on Jet Sweeps, reverses and end-arounds.
The above paragraph is focused toward an explanation for the number of roads for Watson to establish a long NFL career. Yes, the targeting was infrequent, in general. The list of NDSU players selected in the first round of the NFL draft begins and ends with Carson Wentz and Trey Lance. Foretelling Watson as a first-rounder would be testing history. But that’s precisely the level of talents this kid will carry to the game’s highest level. As you can see in the top-25 WR ranks at the top of the profile, Watson is now tethered to George Pickens in a 6a-6b tie.
The level of talent at the top of this WR class is like nothing this analyst has ever witnessed. Just don’t take the comps below to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Martavis Bryant to the extreme. We just don’t have a very long list of players from the last 10 seasons with Watson’s combination of size-and-speed.
2021 Video Recommendations: Week 3 at Towson, Week 6 vs. Northern Iowa, Week 8 vs. Missouri State, Week 10 at South Dakota State, Week 11 at Youngstown State, Week 12 vs. South Dakota and FCS Championship vs. Montana State
Optimal Landing Spots: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons
Film Review Comp (2021): Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Overall Comp (Factoring size, athleticism, tape and level of collegiate production): Martavis Bryant