The New England Patriots did address their wide receiver needs to some degree this offseason, acquiring DeVante Parker via trade from the Miami Dolphins. Nonetheless, the position itself remains one the team might very well try to bolster in the draft.
The outside spot in particular is still a work in progress even with Parker in the fold. While the ex-Dolphin has a WR1 ceiling and could serve as the deep threat the Patriots offense was lacking in 2021, he has struggled with injuries and is already 29 years old. The depth behind him, meanwhile, is one collective question mark.
Nelson Agholor might be better suited as a Z rather than an X, while N’Keal Harry appears to be on his way out and Kristian Wilkerson is unproven. Adding another developmental option to the equation — preferably with plenty of upside — would make a lot of sense from New England’s point of view.
Well, time to meet Christian Watson.
Name: Christian Watson
Position: Wide receiver
School: North Dakota State (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 season: 12 games; 43 receptions, 801 yards, 7 touchdowns
Size: 6041, 208 lbs, 32 1/2 arm length, 77 5/8 wingspan, 10 1/8 hand size
Expected round: 2nd
Strengths: At 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, Watson offers intriguing size and combines it with some legitimate speed and explosiveness. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the Scouting Combine, tested well in the vertical (38 1/2) and broad (11’4) jumps as well as the three-cone drill (6.96), and knows how to translate all of it onto the field. There is not much difference between his workout speed and his elite game speed.
Watson’s movement out of the gate is very smooth, and he has shown the ability to stack defensive backs and create separation on vertical routes in an instant. This, in turn, has allowed him to average 20.4 yards per reception during his four playing seasons at North Dakota State. In general, he is a serious deep threat that has a natural feel for tracking the football on deep routes and has shown some good timing on his jumps.
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: WR Christian Watson (NDSU) 6’4” 208lbs— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) March 8, 2022
Big bodied WR with elite play speed and create easy separation vs press/vertical routes. Elite hall skills that can make plays at all three levels.pic.twitter.com/9fYlRqJkEe
Watson’ skillset does not limit to him being a one-dimensional deep threat. He also has the ability to create yards after receiving the football on slant routes, or as a ball-carrier on jet sweeps and end-around — something he did from time to time in college. He furthermore offers some physicality as a blocker in the running game, and has some experience as a kickoff returner; Watson ran back 26 kickoffs at NDSU for an average of 26.4 yards and two scores.
Watson uses his size as a pass catcher but also loves to get physical and involved in the run game. Want to get Bill Belichick’s attention? ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/cv5gXsWtBe— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) March 8, 2022
Watson also is a better route-runner than he is oftentimes given credit for. While he works better on deep patterns, he has a foundation to work with and expand entering the next level. If he can do that, he offers a tremendous ceiling; Watson has legitimate WR1 upside as an X-receiver in the NFL.
Weaknesses: Watson is a very good prospect, but there are some serious questions about him as well. For starters, his drop rate is bad: he allowed 13.3 percent of catchable balls to hit the turf over the course of his career, with his 10.4 percent as a redshirt senior not being a serious improvement. Those drops — oftentimes the result of concentration issues — also contributed to a comparative lack of production: in 2021, Watson gained only 801 yards on 43 receptions.
Watson might also benefit from adding some bulk to his slender frame if he wants to compete against NFL-caliber press-man cornerbacks or find consistent success as a blocker. However, one has to wonder how such a development would impact his elite combination of speed and quickness. Along those lines, his injury history: in 2019, Watson underwent multiple surgeries on his knee to repair a torn cartilage.
He furthermore has played his entire career versus FCS competition. Granted, you can only play who you play, but his weaknesses will only get pronounced further in the NFL if they do not get addressed properly. The jump in competition from North Dakota State to the pro level is a massive one, meaning that Watson might need to take his time before seeing prominent snaps.
What would be his role? Watson primarily served as an outside receiver in college, and the expectation is that he would play the same role in the NFL and with the Patriots in particular. He is an X-receiver through and through, with his combination of size and speed allowing him to become a legitimate field-stretcher. Due to his developmental status, however, he would probably not open the year as a starter-level player but rather as a rotational option part of some pre-set packages.
Does he have positional versatility? Nobody will confuse Watson with the likes of Kendrick Bourne or Jakobi Meyers, but, as noted above, he is no one-trick pony either. He moved around the formation a bit at NDSU, and was also used as a ball-carrier from time to time. Additionally, he has a bit of experience on special teams having returned 26 kickoffs over the course of his career.
Who is his competition? A projected early second-round pick who might hear his name called as early as the first round, Watson would not face any competition for a roster spot; he would be a lock to make the team. When it comes to playing time, the 22-year-old would initially compete primarily with DeVante Parker. At one point down the line, the expectation is that he would take over a starting role.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, the Patriots have a need at the outside wide receiver spot even with DeVante Parker added via trade. Watson should not be expected to come in and immediately perform on a starter-caliber level, but he would give New England an intriguing package player who would succeed Parker as a potential WR1 down the line — something neither N’Keal Harry nor Kristian Wilkerson are expected to do.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots need to improve their wide receiver depth, but the question is whether or not Watson is indeed the player to do that. He is a project, after all, and it remains to be seen how big of an impact he will have on the offense right away. Furthermore, the team might not be in a position to select him: he will likely come off the board between the team’s selections in the first (1-21) and second (2-54) rounds.
Verdict: Christian Watson’s ceiling alone makes him worth an investment, especially considering that the Patriots could give him some time to develop as an NFL receiver. With DeVante Parker as the number one outside receiver at the moment, and with Nelson Agholor having experience playing that spot as well, they are in a comfortable short-term position. Watson, meanwhile, would be a longer-term investment whose emergence might not come until 2023 or 2024, but who can be a very good player for the team.