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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.