The Packers drafted wide receiver Christian Watson in the second round, trading two late second round picks for the speedy wideout. Watson has elite physical tools. He ran a 4.36 forty. He is 6’4” and weighs 207 lbs. To put that in perspective, Watson has the size of Randy Moss. Moss ran a hand held stopwatch 40 time of 4.25, but being hand held it could have been as slow as 4.35. DeSean Jackson ran a 4.35 forty and made a living on deep balls and stretching defenses in the NFL. But Jackson was only 5’10 and 175 lbs. Calvin Johnson, aka “Megatron” ran a 4.35 forty at 6’5”.
Receivers 6’4” and taller who make a huge impact in the NFL are few and far between. Randy Moss was the tallest receiver in the NFL Hall of Fame until Harold Carmichael and Calvin Johnson were inducted this year. If you count receivers listed at 6’5” who have topped 1000 receiving yards in an NFL season the total number is 10 players.
Calvin Johnson Mike Evans
Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson
Plaxico Burress Ed McCaffrey
Drew Bennett Chris Collingsworth
Kelvin Benjamin Harold Carmichael
When you compare these successful pros with Watson, his numbers are even more impressive. Plaxico Burress measured at 6’4.5” and ran a 4.69 forty yard dash. Benjamin ran a 4.53 forty. Ed McCaffrey ran a 4.69. Vincent Jackson ran a 4.46 forty, a full tenth of a second slower than Watson. Mike Evans was measured at 6’4.5” and ran a 4.53 forty. Watson bests every player on the list except Johnson and Moss. Just as impressive is his initial ten yard burst, timed at 1.45 seconds. Both Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson ran a 1.52 10 yard split.
When you see Watson’s numbers matching or besting every tall receiver in NFL history, you start to wonder, how did he last to the second round? How was this kid listed as the 501st best receiver coming out of high school? How did every D-1 football program pass on this kid?
There are some answers, starting with his age. Watson was 16 years old the spring of his senior year of high school. He didn’t turn 18 until after he graduated. His sophomore year Watson stood 5’9” and 140 lbs. His high school, Plant high in Tampa Florida, was a powerhouse school that was watched by many scouts, but Watson was too small to be considered a D-1 prospect.
South Dakota State took a trip down to see the Plant team and on a rainy spring practice day Watson stood out, catching every ball thrown his way. SDSU had Watson up for a visit and he was impressed with the new weight room being built and the coaching staff. When SDSU offered a scholarship in June before his senior season, he jumped on it and told his high school coach to tell other schools he was fully committed and focused on his senior season.
As a senior, Watson led his team to the state championship. He totaled 587 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He was now 6’3” and ran a 4.4 forty yard dash. His injury history is hard to accurately assess as FCS schools do not publish injury information as accurately as Power 5 schools, but he was quoted discussing a knee injury with the college “Bison” newspaper. He stated to the Bison that he suffered a knee injury and had been dealing with it for about a year. The knee required surgery.
He was quoted as saying he would not be able to walk for six weeks and would miss spring practice but he would be ready for his sophomore season, which he did successfully. Watson could have de-committed before his freshman year or transferred as his highlight real started to become packed after his junior year at SDSU, but Watson never even considered it. He even returned from a hamstring injury to play in the championship game his senior year, out of loyalty to his teammates.
So how does this rags to riches story end up with a Packer pick in the second round? While Watson has good stats and a decent highlight real, the SDSU offense was 70% run based. There is more tape of Watson blocking than there is winning contested catches. In the NFL, winning contested catches differentiates the All Pros from the also-rans. Watson has tools but he will need to learn how to out muscle press corners and use his body and leaping ability (vertical jump of 38.5) to win contested balls.
So Watson is still labeled a “work in progress” who needs to learn how to play against opponents who match his speed and size. Davante Adams is great now, but all Packer fans remember his “learning curve” before he broke out in his third season. The problem for the Packers is only Allen Lazard and an aging Randall Cobb are experienced in the offense. Watson needs to be put in a Packer offense immersion program and graduate with honors for the Packer offense to blossom in 2022.
Watson’s pick required the Packers to give up picks number 53 and 59. At 53 the Colts picked Alex Pierce, Pierce is 6’3” and ran 4.41 in the forty. He has more film winning contested catches than Watson. Taken a pick later, Skyy Moore measured 5’10”. 195 lbs., and ran 4.41. Jalen Tolbert and David Bell were third round picks. The 49ers picked the speedy (4.33) Johnny Gray out of SMU later in the third round. All of these picks will be compared to each other over the next three years. Time and tough catches will tell the story. Watson excelled at SDSU, but in the NFL there is no game against Lindenwood. Watson has unique tools. The Packers have an offense that can utilize his talents. The rest is in the learning curve.