NFL Draft 2022: What the Green Bay Packers are getting in North Dakota State WR Christian Watson

Christian Watson is a freaky talent. It took a while for everyone to see this, but now they are. The drafting process gave the North Dakota State wide receiver an opportunity to flaunt it all, and he shone. He is now going to the Packers as the No. 34 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

If you saw Watson’s performance at the March combine, you knew he was going to rise up the teams’ draft boards and end up here. He was the only 6-foot-4 wideout to run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash in the past decade. Noah Pauley, his receiver coach at North Dakota State, had a front row seat in Indianapolis for the show.

“The first thing he did was the long jump,” Pauley said. “When he jumped 11-foot-4, I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to be a fun day.'”

And then he ran a 4.36. Pauley wasn’t shocked. He’s glad those numbers got NFL teams to take a closer look at a player who isn’t just a tester or a combine creation. Watson had a great five-year career with the Bison, working hard to become a two-time FCS All-American, three-time All-Conference player and four-time national champion.

Playing receiver in the state of North Dakota isn’t for everyone. The Bison ran the ball 70 percent of the time during Watson’s career, even when they selected Trey Lance as quarterback in the first round. For Watson, that meant blocking a lot and making the most of his goals. He produced more than 3,200 career all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns as a receiver, rusher, and returner. And he was explosive at all stages, gaining 20+ yards on 57 of 180 career touches.

“Christian is quite unique and you can see the skills in the film,” Pauley said. “It didn’t matter what his role was. That’s a testament to his football IQ. We could field him anywhere or put him in the backfield and he would do it at a very high level.

Pauley believed he could have played anywhere in the country. The coach admits he was “extremely concerned” in 2020 that Watson could transfer to a home school in Florida. When Pauley later told him this, Watson said it never occurred to him. Loyal to the school that believed in him, he was driven more by winning national titles than his own fame.

He also made that clear late in the 2021 season. Watson suffered a hamstring injury late in the regular season that forced him to miss FCS’ first three North Dakota State playoff games. He could have played it safe and focused on the Senior Bowl and the upcoming draft process. “He told me, ‘Coach, when I’m ready, I’ll play,'” Pauley said. Watson took his rehab seriously and fought back to qualify for the national championship, where he rushed for a team-high 61 yards in a 38-10 win over Montana State.

“I’ll always remember that,” Pauley said. “I think that says a lot about him for a guy like him with everything he had on the line. He’s obviously been given some very special God-given talents, but the boy is a hard worker and an incredible person.”

Dane Brugler on Christian Watson (#10 WR, #61 overall view in The Beast)

With his smooth acceleration, Watson displays vertical pace as a routerunner and is quarterback-friendly, working back toward the ball and expanding his catching radius. He never faced an FBS opponent during his time at NDSU and will see a significant leap in speed and physicality when he faces NFL competition. Overall, Watson is unpolished as a route runner and needs to improve his consistency at the catch point, but he’s an intriguing size/speed athlete with the explosiveness to win vertically. It projects upside down as a WR4 as a rookie with WR2 and offers kick return experience.

Top college highlight

One of Watson’s big breakthrough moments came in the 2019 FCS semifinals. Immediately following Montana State’s 7-7 tie, the Bison hit a big throw on the first down, and Trey Lance hit Watson for a 75-yard touchdown on a go route. North Dakota State’s defense forced a quick three-and-out and put the offense back on the field. They called a jet sweep for Watson and he took it 70 yards home. Route 42-14 was on from there.

trainer language

“We all knew he was fast, but here at NDSU we don’t really do a lot of those tests,” Pauley said. “We don’t do the 40 or the long jump, so we never really knew. But we knew he was really athletic. When pre-season scouts would come by here, they would all ask, “How fast do you think he is?” I’d say to them, “He keeps telling me he’s going to run in the 4.3 seconds.” I didn’t doubt him at all. Even two weeks off the combine, he kept telling me. A scout told me he sets the over/under to 4.41. I told Christian that. He smiled. He said: “Perfect. I’ll be in the 4.3 seconds.’”

What you may have overlooked

Watson was a two-star recruit graduating from Powerhouse Tampa (Fla.) Plant High School. Why was that? He was about 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds as a sophomore before his growth spurt started. That was undoubtedly a factor. But he was also overshadowed by teammate Whop Philyor, a future Indiana All-Big Ten wideout. As a senior, Watson had 23 catches for 393 yards and eight touchdowns. Philyor had 93 for 1,329 yards and 20 points. Credit to the North Dakota State coaches for seeing Watson’s upswing in the spring leading up to his senior year, making him his initial offer and securing his commitment before state schools took notice.

(Photo: Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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