Isaiah Coulter was the sole FCS wide receiver selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Although it’s early in the 2021 cycle, several receivers are already receiving draft buzz, including Montana’s Samori Toure and Cade Johnson of South Dakota State. North Dakota State WR Christian Watson may just be the most exciting of them all.
Where the NFL Draft is concerned, there is something in the water in Fargo, North Dakota.
Despite seeing just one player drafted during the 1990s, there has been a consistent pipeline from the perennial NCAA FCS Champions to the NFL since the turn of the millennium. Eleven players from the Bison have heard their names called, with defensive dominator Derrek Tuszka the most recent.
It’s a phenomenal rate of success, yet despite this, the most players North Dakota State has sent to the NFL Draft in a single year was two, when quarterback Carson Wentz and offensive tackle Joe Haeg were selected in 2016.
With Trey Lance and Dillon Radunz already receiving plenty of attention, Watson could make it a herd of Bison selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. He would be the first North Dakota State wide receiver to be drafted since the New York Giants chose Stacy Robinson in the 1985 NFL Draft.
Introducing North Dakota State WR Christian Watson
The culture of success at North Dakota State has allowed them to produce NFL talent successfully. This culture was one of the key contributory factors that took HB Plant High School’s Watson almost 2000 miles from his home in Tampa, Florida, to the frozen north of Fargo and North Dakota State University.
The former two-star recruit turned heads with an impressive 17.1 yards per catch and eight touchdowns in his senior high school season and entertained offers from Division I programs. However, the opportunity to play regularly in front of the television cameras and challenge for FCS National Championships decided his destination.
After an inconspicuous start to his Bison career, with a redshirt in 2017 and knee surgery before the 2018 season, Watson exploded into life in 2019. He was voted to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Second Team after leading the NDSU receiving room with 732 yards and six touchdowns.
His 2019 statistics may sound relatively meager, and you won’t find Watson sat atop the FCS receiving yards leader list, for example. However, he racked up his yardage at an incredible 21.5 yards per reception, good enough for second in the FCS.
What makes Watson a must-watch FCS prospect
Watson can make huge, game-changing plays.
If you think of the impact that Henry Ruggs III had for Alabama, that is what Watson brings to North Dakota State.
Take the FCS semi-final clash with Montana State, for example. First, he took a pass from Lance 75 yards to the house to give the Bison a 14-7 lead. The very next offensive play for NDSU, he took a jet sweep and turned it into a 70-yard touchdown. Those two plays completely altered the direction of the game.
— FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) December 21, 2019
On both plays, Watson showed the speed that allows him to make those big plays.
It allows him to be a deep threat, but also to make plays like the jets sweep, or to take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain.
During the 2019 season, head coach Matt Entz had the NDSU players fitted with GPS trackers. Watson hit a high of 23 mph and consistently ran at 22 mph throughout the season. That would put him faster than any ball carrier in the NFL during 2019, with San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida the fastest recorded player by NFL Next Gen Stats at 22.3 mph.
The speed Watson demonstrates as he flies past defensive backs will catch the eyes of NFL scouts in the same way it has wowed his NDSU teammates. Running back Ty Brooks, for the longest time the self-proclaimed fastest player on the team said:
“Christian is fast! I aint see nothing like that! Nice to see him healthy and get out in space. We knew he was capable but hasn’t been healthy enough to show. He’s still young, that’s the scary part.”
The scary part may be that speed isn’t the only weapon in the Watson armory.
There is no doubt that Watson is at his most dangerous out in the open field. Still, he demonstrated against the University of Northern Iowa that he can also be a red zone threat, snagging a touchdown catch in the back corner of the endzone with a defensive back draped all over him. He combines speed with decent size at 6’3’ and 206lbs to provide an all-round receiving threat.
Here's the field level angle of the Christian Watson touchdown from Saturday's game. Might be the coolest thing I've shot so far. pic.twitter.com/ujk68xzFwl
— Isak Dinesen (@isak_dinesen14) October 15, 2019
Even scarier is that Watson is getting better all the time
In the final seven games of the season, he accounted for 100 yards or more in four of them. He logged a career-high 121 yards against Western Illinois. In the FCS quarterfinal win over Illinois State, he contributed 107 yards on a career-high seven receptions.
Watson is taking momentum into a 2020 FCS season, where there is a brighter spotlight on NDSU than ever before due to the expectation surrounding Lance and Radunz. There is also an early-season matchup with PAC 12 heavyweight Oregon that will be closely scrutinized by NFL scouts and analysts across the nation.
These are the occasions that Watson came to North Dakota State for. If he can be at his explosive best when the light shines brightest, then he has every chance to hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft.