The Green Bay Packers may not have drafted a wide receiver in the first round in 2022, but it only took two picks into the second round before general manager Brian Gutekunst pulled the trigger on an electric new weapon.
North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson was selected with the 34th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He finished with 43 receptions for 800 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021, adding another 114 yards and a score on the ground.
Before getting into the film, it’s important to note that Watson is one of the tougher wide receiver evaluations out there. North Dakota State runs a very non-traditional offense, operating with multiple fullbacks and heavy personnel while frequently rotating its receivers on and off the field.
Watson only played on 34 percent of the team’s season-long offensive snaps because of this and injury. Watching his tape required a lot of fast-forwarding to find his snaps. That being said, his athleticism stands out whenever he’s on the field. His Relative Athletic Score of 9.96 is one of the highest scores ever recorded for a wide receiver:
Christian Watson was drafted with pick 34 of round 2 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.96 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 12 out of 2785 WR from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/WGDb5WvptX #RAS #Packers pic.twitter.com/WjWBiPnxvr— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2022
With his length at 6-foot-4 and speed with a 4.36 40-yard dash, Watson is an excellent deep threat. Teams at the FCS level respected that deep speed often, having their defensive backs often play way off coverage and allowing Watson to pick up easy yards rather than letting him beat them over the top.
Teams respected Watson's deep speed and would line up way off of him at times.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Curious to see if teams do the same at next level. He could be dangerous one-on-one with the ball given his size and athleticism. pic.twitter.com/8fYhnRsp85
When defenses don’t account for Watson’s deep speed, he can be a real problem. A number of his touchdowns came on explosive passes deep downfield. With North Dakota State running the ball so much with heavy personnel, sometimes those big scores were due to blown coverages.
Looks like safety blows assignment here on PA. CB is not prepared to cover deep. Starts with inside leverage and immediately loses it.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
If Packers can get defenses to bite on play action (Rodgers loves to sell those fakes!), Watson can easily take the top off of defenses. pic.twitter.com/WTp4g6d06g
This is something that should excite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coaching staff. Head coach Matt LaFleur loves to establish the run, and Rodgers is notorious for selling handoffs on his play-action fakes. If the Packers can bait defenses in 2022, Watson should find himself with separation deep downfield.
Watson becomes a real weapon once the ball is in his hands. He can be hard to bring down because of his size, but he also has the wiggle to find rushing lanes when taking the ball out of the backfield, even if vision as a runner isn’t his strong suit.
Watson is dangerous with the ball in his hands, so NDSU kept finding ways to get him the ball.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Good play speed and wiggle taking a handoff out of the backfield. pic.twitter.com/Lo7AC5zpJd
This play against South Dakota State is a great example of Watson’s ability to pick up yards after the catch. He could be a real problem for opponents when going against some of the smaller defensive backs in the league.
There's very real potential for Watson to be a dangerous YAC threat. pic.twitter.com/INT8kabqwz— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
LaFleur will also be quick to tell anyone he can that Watson is an excellent blocker. That shouldn’t be surprising considering the 23-year-old’s frame, but after turning on the tape it’s really impressive just how much he contributes in the running game.
Here are just a few examples of Watson’s work as a run blocker.
Hard to find many WR prospects who will hold a block in the run game for as long as this. pic.twitter.com/KYVeqOMVa2— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Washes the defender out with a block and sets his teammate up for a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/YuGio97LHb— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Watson crashes down and comes into frame to clear out the safety and set up another TD. pic.twitter.com/S565Ix6EYM— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
For all of the athleticism, talent, and size that Watson possesses, he’s not a perfect prospect. One of the things that Watson has struggled with is making catches outside of his frame. He can be forgiven for the play below since the throw was high and behind him, but Watson will also probably admit to himself that he should have caught a ball that hit him in the hands.
Obviously a high throw here, but you still don't want to see the ball hit your hands and not be able to reel it in. pic.twitter.com/RcqgmhSbDv— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Contested catches are also a concern for Watson. For someone with his frame and athleticism, you would like to see the former North Dakota State receiver make more plays on 50-50 balls. There were a handful of plays where Watson was in a good position to make a play in traffic but couldn’t haul it in.
Something I'd really like to see Watson work on is his contested catch ability.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
I've seen quite a few jump ball opportunities and I wish I saw him come away with more of them. pic.twitter.com/hSHM0UjjhD
That’s not to say Watson can’t improve in jump-ball situations, however. He came right back in this game and hauled in a tough catch in traffic running a wheel route out of the backfield.
MUCH better off the wheel route out of the backfield. pic.twitter.com/wdYETrUJn4— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) May 17, 2022
Watson may not be a completely polished product, but it’s easy to see why the Packers traded up in the second round to draft him. The athleticism and size fit exactly what the Packers want, especially with their need at the wide receiver position with the departures of both Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
It could take some time for Watson to get completely comfortable in a brand new offense, but once he figures it out, the sky is the limit.