Although North Dakota State has been a regular supplier of talent to the NFL from the FCS level, you have to go back to 1985 to find the last time they had a wide receiver drafted. All that could change in the 2022 NFL Draft, with NDSU WR Christian Watson one of the top FCS prospects in the class. Just how high can he go? Watson’s scouting report reveals a size and speed threat with the versatility to be a genuine difference-maker at the NFL level.
Christian Watson NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: North Dakota State
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 208 pounds
Christian Watson Scouting Report
The 2022 NFL Draft wide receiver class is deeply talented. From a bevy of potential first-rounders, through a congested Day 2 crowd, there is genuine NFL talent all the way to the final pick of the class. With such a competitive and crowded environment, it can be difficult to stand out. That is especially true when you play your football outside of the Division I glare.
However, Watson has no issues standing out in a crowd. By playing at one of the most successful college football programs at the FCS level, he has something of a competitive advantage over other potential NFL Draft prospects at that level. As Watson’s scouting report reveals, however, he’s more than just a name from a big school.
It helps to stand out from the crowd when you’re listed at 6’5″ and 208 pounds. While there may be some debate as to the accuracy of those measurements, there’s no denying that Watson is clearly distinguishable at the line of scrimmage. When you’re that build, there’s a natural assumption about your qualities as a receiver. Watson shatters those preconceptions.
The NDSU WR is a ludicrous speed merchant for his size. He has an official 4.44 40-yard dash time from high school, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him replicate or beat that comfortably during official testing. Watson decimates coverage with his ability to breeze past opponents with ease. Furthermore, Watson accelerates quickly, ensuring he can gain separation at all three levels of the field rather than just in the deep third.
Speed, size, versatility
Watson’s speed makes him an incredibly versatile NFL Draft prospect. He’s been used in almost every conceivable offensive alignment. Watson has been deployed outside both to the boundary and field, in the slot, and in the backfield. NDSU utilizes him in motion in a multitude of ways. Additionally, he’s a dangerous kick returner.
With the ball in his hands, Watson has many appealing qualities. He possesses an arsenal of skill moves, including hurdles, jukes, and cuts. The NDSU WR is also extremely physical, possessing a nasty stiff-arm to fend off opponents. This physicality is also demonstrated by how difficult he is to bring down. Watson showcases impressive contact balance, rarely being stopped on the first attempt.
As a receiver, speed is his primary weapon. However, he is far from a one-trick pony in this regard. Watson showcases good route-running ability. At the point of the catch, he demonstrates good ball-tracking ability, body control, and spatial awareness. As a three-level threat, there are multiple examples on film of him being able to secure the ball in traffic coming across the middle of the field.
As a size, speed, and versatility threat, Watson should have multiple suitors in the 2022 NFL Draft. His phenomenal return ability could see him earn an early special-teams role at the next level. For me, he projects to be one of the best FCS players in the class, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Watson selected early on Day 3 or even late in Day 2.
Areas for improvement
Although Watson has an impressive NFL Draft scouting report, there are areas for concern. Additionally, those concerns have the potential to limit his stock. Thankfully for the NDSU WR, almost all of these areas are developmentally within his control.
Watson has shown during his time in Fargo that he understands what it takes to be successful at a given level. During the games studied, there were multiple examples of drops in contested-catch situations. For a player listed at 6’5″ who demonstrates physicality in other areas of the game, you’d expect this area to be a strength. He needs to remain focused on the catch throughout the process. This could also be a by-product of a propensity to rely on his body to secure the catch rather than routinely plucking the ball out of the air with his hands.
Although he is an excellent athlete in most regards, Watson isn’t always sudden in movements. He can be guilty of rounding off his routes rather than being a twitch athlete. He’s shown the ability to change direction with cuts — Watson just needs to ensure he routinely maximizes his athletic potential.
One area that Watson can’t impact is the perception of his level of competition. Watching his college tape is often like watching high school footage where one kid is stupidly bigger and faster than the rest. The competition at the next level will be significantly better, so can Watson continue to be dominant against that elevated competition?
Christian Watson Player Profile
It’s almost 2,000 miles from the frozen north of Fargo to the Sunshine State of Florida. The distance is an almost perfect metaphor for the journey that Watson has taken from being an underrated, under-recruited high school player at Plant High School to the verge of the NFL as one of the most dangerous playmakers at the FCS level.
While he has developed into his football ability, Watson’s athletic capability was evident early. During his time at Plant, he competed in the 200m, long jump, and triple jump. The three disciplines provide the basis for the speedy, explosive nature of his game. It’s no surprise to learn that he also logged a 4.44 40-yard dash and 4.09 shuttle in school.
That athletic ability eventually translated to the football field. As a result of only playing two full years for Plant, Watson was only a two-star recruit, ranking as the 501st wide receiver in the class. Nonetheless, he attracted the attention of some smaller college programs, including NDSU, whose staff had been impressed after seeing him routinely snag passes during a wet practice session.
Committing to NDSU
NDSU’s reputation for producing NFL talent and playing on the biggest stage piqued the interest of the young Floridian WR. When Watson got eyes on the impressive facilities that the FCS program boasted, his mind was made up. He made a hard commitment to the Bison ahead of his senior season, instructing his coaches to lock up his recruitment.
“Once I committed, I pretty much said I’m 110% committed,” Watson told Joe Kerlin of Bison Illustrated. “I didn’t stay in contact with many schools after that.”
Watson finished out his high school career by helping Plant to a state championship game. Unfortunately, the 13-1 campaign was concluded with a defeat in the title game. Nevertheless, he ended his career with 587 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and averaged 17.1 yards per catch before making the journey up north to begin his collegiate career.
Watson’s career at NDSU
With just two years of starting experience at the high school level, Watson unsurprisingly redshirted his first season in Fargo. He clearly had speed and ability but needed to consistently pull the two together on the football field as Bison head coach Matt Entz would reflect on later in Watson’s NDSU career.
“Just being fast isn’t enough,” Entz told Jeff Kolpack of Inforum. “We’ve all seen great track guys that can play football, but he needed to be a really fast football player. I think he’s been able to do that in his time here.”
That development began to take shape in 2018, Watson’s redshirt sophomore season. He saw action in all 14 games, earning two starts against Northern Iowa and Montana State. He tallied 9 receptions for 165 yards during the season, including a season-long 48-yard catch against Southern Illinois. The NDSU WR also showed the first signs of his ability to impact the game in multiple ways, with his first two career kick returns.
The FCS world began to understand what Watson was all about in 2019. Starting 11 games, he earned second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference recognition after leading the team with 732 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Impressively, he finished second in the conference with 21.53 yards per catch. Watson tallied 964 all-purpose yards that included a 70-yard rushing score and 75-yard receiving touchdown in the FCS playoffs.
Dazzling in a disjointed redshirt junior season
Watson’s all-purpose ability came to the forefront again in the disjointed 2020-2021 campaign. As part of an 896-scrimmage yard campaign, he returned kickoffs to the house against Northern Iowa and Sam Houston State. His 229-yard day against UNI earned him the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week. It was the first of many accolades as Watson was named first-team All-Conference at receiver and an All-American kick returner by multiple outlets.
Although he received attention in the last NFL Draft class, Watson opted to return to Fargo for one more season. The NDSU WR set career highs for receiving yards, tearing up Northern Iowa once more, this time to the tune of 163 yards. His 740 receiving yards, 120 rushing yards, and 210 kick return yards — despite missing time with a hamstring injury — are a testament to Watson’s ability to impact the game in multiple ways.
“Gotta be creative where we can play him,” remarked Entz midseason. “Hard to double-team him when he’s in the backfield.”
Although it’s unclear at the time of writing whether Watson will play in the FCS Championship, his path to the NFL Draft is clear. His performances have earned him an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl. There, NFL staff will get an in-person look at one of the best playmakers the FCS will produce this year. Pure athletic ability, football talent, and maturity of mindset have come together at the right time for Watson.
From Florida to Fargo to hearing his name called in Las Vegas?
“Seeing him evolve and mature has been really great to see,” commented offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl. “For a kid that was extremely under-recruited for the talent he has, he does the things now to a high level of discipline and accountability.”
Watson has traveled from Florida to Fargo in pursuit of playing football at the highest level. The next step will see him hit the field with some of the best in the nation in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. While he currently projects as an early Day 3 prospect, hearing his name called on Day 2 isn’t out of the question for highly talent pass catcher.