NFL Draft Notebook: Christian Watson is a true playmaker

Christian Watson, 2022 NFL Draft. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
Christian Watson, 2022 NFL Draft. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

Last season no FCS school had more players in the NFL than North Dakota State with 11. This number should go up by two as the Bison will likely see two players drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. One of these prospects is offensive guard Cordell Volson who currently carries a fifth-round grade. However, the player from Fargo who will likely be drafted the highest is wide receiver Christian Watson.

In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook we take a look at what makes Christian Watson one of the top playmakers in the 2022 NFL Draft and a likely day two selection. Along with giving a scouting report on Watson in this edition of NFL Draft Notebook we also highlight the following

  • The top defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft
  • The most pressing need for each NFC East team
  • A Big 12 corner who will turn heads at the NFL Combine
  • And much more

Taking a look at Christian Watson

Coming out of H.B. Plant High School, Christian Watson was a lightly recruited prospect who was viewed as a developmental player due to his impressive speed. The fact he had yet to transfer his 4.44 speed to the football field was one of the reasons he was rated as only a two-star prospect and didn’t receive any FBS scholarship offers. It also didn’t help matters that Watson was viewed as an immature kid coming out of high school, and someone who didn’t have the strongest work ethic.

Watson started to develop both on and off the field once he got to North Dakota State. His breakout season came in 2019 when he led NDSU in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He followed that up with an even stronger junior season. That season he again led the Bison in most receiving categories, and also was named an All-American return man. As a return man, he was the only player at the FCS level to return two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged an eye-popping 33.8 yards per return.

Christian Watson saved his best season for his senior season though. This past year he hauled in 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns all of which were career highs. He also had the best game of his career catching five passes for 163 yards and one touchdown vs. Northern Iowa. His strong season earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl where he again impressed and was named the top wide receiver on the National team.

As far as developing off the field Watson has excelled in this area as well. He has gone from a kid who did not always give great effort to one of the hardest workers on the team. In fact, his maturity is now something scouts are raving about, with one scout telling, that Watson is a player who will be a great locker room presence and is someone who will work his tail off every day.

When looking at how Watson’s game will transfer to the NFL several positive traits stand out. The first positive with him is his ability to pick up yards after the catch. During his career at North Dakota State he averaged 20.4 yards per catch and a lot of these yards came after he had the ball in his hands. In this area, he shows the vision to evade defenders in the open field and also the athletic ability to make people miss in the open field. These two traits have also been one of the reasons he averaged 26.4 on kickoff returns and should make him one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL.

Another positive with Watson is his agility for his size. Coming in at 6-foot-4 he is one of the bigger receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft, yet still moves incredibly well. This allows him to make the tough diving catch or to go up and over defenders to come down with the ball. One more positive with him is that he is a player who will give his all whether it be going full speed on his routes or blocking downfield.

The biggest issue NFL teams will have with Watson is that he played at the FCS level. However, he did dominate at the highest level of FCS football and had some of his best games against the top teams he saw. He also helped ease these concerns with his strong Senior Bowl week.

As far as his play on the field he does need to improve at catching the ball in traffic. Over his time at North Dakota State he has dropped his share of passes in traffic and will need to improve in this area. One thing he could do to help with this is add some more muscle to his 211-pound frame. Another issue with him is that he has battled some injuries during his time in college including a hamstring injury he battled towards the end of the 2021 season.

When it comes to where Christian Watson will go in the 2022 NFL Draft, a lot will come down to how he does in Indianapolis this week. If he can post a 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range and put up respectable numbers on the bench press he should hear his name called on day two of the draft.

2022 NFL Draft Defensive End Rankings

Top prospect: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
While Aidan Hutchinson is rated as the top defensive end by a lot of analysts, Thibodeaux earns the top spot here. The reason he receives a slight edge over Hutchinson is his high upside. He has an extremely quick first step off the ball which should allow him to post double-digit sack numbers in the NFL. He also holds up well vs. the run and shows surprising power for a pass rusher on the leaner side.

Most underrated: Zach VanValkenburg, Iowa
One of the more interesting prospects from the Big Ten is Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg. VanValkenburg started his career off at the Division II level playing for Hillsdale College where he was named the 2018 Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. After his time with the Chargers, he decided to transfer to Iowa, where he has accounted for nine sacks over the past two seasons. While he lacks the elite physical skills some defensive ends in this class have he should be able to stick in the NFL due to his ideal size, good motor, and overall fundamentally sound play.

Most overrated: Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Some team will likely fall in love with the explosion Boye Mafe displays as a pass rusher and take him in the first round. This choice would be a mistake though as he has several questions about his game. One of these questions involves his football instincts. He can get lost on the field at times and has very few pass-rushing moves. He also struggles vs. the run and he might have to start out as a situational pass rusher in the NFL.

Biggest risk: Dominique Robinson, Miami of Ohio
Not often do you see a player from the MAC who never started a game, yet will hear his name called on draft day. However, that is the case with Miami of Ohio defensive end Dominique Robinson. The reason some team will likely take a chance of Robinson early on day three of the 2022 NFL Draft is his combination of outstanding burst off the ball, ideal length, and overall high upside.

Player who had a breakout year: Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
Jermaine Johnson took full advantage of his one year in Tallahassee. After transferring from Georgia, Johnson started for the first time in his career at Florida State. All he did in that year was led the ACC in tackles for loss with 18 and in sacks with 12. He also improved his draft stock even more at the Senior Bowl, where he was one of the most dominant players on the field.

Player who had a disappointing year: Amaré Barno, Virginia Tech
The expectations were high for Virginia Tech’s Amaré Barno after he led the ACC in tackles for loss last season with 16. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to those expectations only recording 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season. On top of that, he also had a rough week at the Senior Bowl and proved he will likely be looked at as just a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Top small school player: Isaiah Chambers, McNeese State
There have been very few players in college football who have been as productive as Isaiah Chambers the past couple of seasons. Chambers accounted for 10.5 sacks this season and in the spring of 2021 registered 7.5 sacks. As a prospect, he has the size NFL teams are looking for coming in at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, and has a high motor as well. Despite this combination, he was not invited to the NFL Combine, so he could be a steal as an undrafted free agent signing.

2022 NFL Draft Defensive End Overall Rankings

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (first round)
2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (first round)
3. George Karlaftis, Purdue (first round)
4. Jermaine Johnson, Florida State (first round)
5. David Ojabo, Michigan (first round)
6. Travon Walker, Georgia (first round)
7. Drake Jackson, USC (second round)
8. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State (second round)
9. Boye Mafe, Minnesota (third round)
10. Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati (third round)
11. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina (third round)
12. Cameron Thomas, San Diego State (third round)
13. Dominique Robinson, Miami of Ohio (fifth round)
14. Micheal Clemons, Texas A&M (fifth round)
15. Alex Wright, UAB (fifth round)
16. Josh Paschal, Kentucky (fifth round)
17. Esezi Otomewo, Minnesota (fifth round)
18. Amaré Barno, Virginia Tech (fifth round)
19. Ali Fayad, Western Michigan (sixth round)
20. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame (sixth round)
21. Isaiah Chambers, McNeese State (sixth round)
22. Zach VanValkenburg, Iowa (sixth round)
23. Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma (seventh round)
24. Cade Hall, San Jose State (seventh round)
25. Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M (seventh round)
26. Tyreke Smith, Ohio State (free agent)
27. Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina (free agent)
28. Tre Williams, Arkansas (free agent)

2022 NFL Draft Top Needs For NFC East

A look at the biggest offseason need for each NFC East team.

Dallas Cowboys
In my latest mock draft, I have the Dallas Cowboys taking Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis which would address their biggest need of the offseason. This is a need for the Cowboys since the team could lose Randy Gregory in free agency, and also might decide to cut DeMarcus Lawrence to free up cap space. If one of these players moves on Dallas will need to bring in a replacement this offseason.

New York Giants
An area the New York Giants must address this season is the offensive line, and especially the interior offensive line. Last year, this unit ranked dead last in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus. If the team wants to give Daniel Jones at least one more chance of proving he is the answer at quarterback they will need to do a better job of protecting him next year.

Philadelphia Eagles
Last season the Philadelphia Eagles finished with just 10 interceptions, so adding some playmakers in the secondary is priority number one. This is an even bigger need when you consider safeties Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris and cornerback Steve Nelson are all free agents. It would be a surprise if the Eagles did not use one of their three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft on either a cornerback or safety.

Washington Commanders
One team who will likely look to trade for a quarterback this offseason is the Washington Commanders. Last year’s starting quarterbak Taylor Heinicke turned the ball over way too often last year throwing 15 picks. A player that would make sense for the Commanders is Jimmy Garoppolo.

Scouting Notes

— One player who will turn heads at the NFL Combine is cornerback Kalon Barnes of Baylor. Barnes will likely post one of the best 40-yard dashes and could be someone a team takes late in the draft due to his impressive speed. In high school, Barnes posted a 10.22 100-meter dash which is a Texas high school record. He also was the Texas state champion in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash twice during his high school career.

— A player who has some red flags that could cause him to fall in the 2022 NFL Draft is Texas A&M’s Micheal Clemons. One of the concerns teams will have with him is his injury history including a season ending leg injury in 2020. In addition to missing the end of the 2020 season, he also had to miss two games in 2019 injuries. Another red flag with him is that he was arrested before the 2021 season on charges that included unlawful carrying of a weapon, failure to identify/giving false information, less than two ounces of marijuana possession and driving with an invalid license. On the positive side, he is bigger defensive end, who plays a tough physical style of football.

— While a lot of people are projecting Houston’s Logan Hall as a defensive end in the NFL his best position will be as a one-gap defensive tackle. One of the reasons he fits best in this role is his strength. He shows the power to bull rush offensive guards on a consistent basis, and also does a good job of holding his ground vs. the run. He also fits best at this position since he lacks the quickness to be much of a pass-rushing threat off the edge. On the other hand, he does show a good first step, especially for a defensive tackle and would be a much bigger threat rushing the passer inside. One concern NFL teams will have with him playing defensive tackle is his lack of bulk coming in at only 278-pounds which is why he will have to play in a scheme that allows him to shoot his gap and not ask him to tie up blocks.

— One NFL comparison that makes a lot of sense is Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks to Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson. Like Patterson, Burks is a player who is very dangerous with the ball in his hands and should be able to excel as a return man. However, he also has some concerns that have hurt Patterson’s game including being somewhat of a stiff runner that has trouble making sharp cuts. This limitation will likely affect the impact Burks makes at the next level, since it will limit the routes he can run and will force teams to scheme up ways to get him the ball. These concerns are the main reason Burks carries a third-round grade on NFL Draft Notebook’s board.

Quote of the Week

“He’s not fluid like (Jadeveon) Clowney, but he has the same type of upside coming out … He’s going to get better as a rusher but he might top out at 10 or 11 sacks — I don’t see him as a ‘dude’ in that area.”

  • A personnel director for NFC team, via, on Oregon defensive end
    Kayvon Thibodeaux