Do you like watching receivers that can win vertically, have great speed, reduces pursuit angles in an instant, and have that size that makes you wonder how they move that way? Christian Watson brings all that to the table. At 6’5”, he’s easily one of the most prominent players on the field every time he steps out there; add that he runs a 4.36 forty-yard dash, and he’s cooking with gas, my friends.
The former second-round draft pick found trouble early in his rookie season. Dealing with multiple hamstring injuries, mental miscues, a big drop on his first NFL target, and a concussion to boot. His season, for all intents and purposes, started week ten against the Cowboys where he saw eight targets, corralling four of them for 107 yards and three touchdowns.
His space feel is so natural and easy that he makes it look effortless turning these NFL DBs around. With the Cowboys playing, what appears to be, Cover 1 with a spy on Rodgers, Watson has space to manipulate. Running a deep cross, he cuts up around the man coverage defender, threatening to win vertically with his speed. The safety over adjusts and Watson flattens out his route to the vacated space and it's an easy TD for the two.
This game started a four-game tear where he accumulated 15 receptions for 313 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. For those keeping track, that's a blistering 20.9 yards per reception (15 receptions) and 12 yards per target (26 targets) over four games. Absurdity.
Watson finished 11th in the NFL* in Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) at 2.26 just behind CeeDee Lamb (2.38) and just in front of Keenan Allen (2.18) all while having the 14th highest Average Depth of Target (ADoT) in the NFL* at 14.3 yards. Only one receiver finished with a better YPRR with a higher ADoT than Watson (Chris Olave: ADoT-14.9 yards, YPRR-2.42 yards). He is a deep-field weapon and was unleashed with Aaron Rodgers searching for anything to go right last season. Watson earned 40% of the Air Yards and a 22% target share from Week 10 on. Talk about a coming out party.
The Aaron Rodgers special catches the defense off-guard and gets a free play. Watson draws single coverage and smartly stays closer to the boundary, keeping a shorter defender all by himself. These plays all come down to timing. Rodgers throws this to where only Watson has a chance. He's patient and times the jump perfectly, high-pointing the catch for a TD.
This is an area I think we'll see a dip from Watson; Rodgers wasn't the QB he was when he won back-to-back MVPs but he still added a lot of value to Watson, especially in the red zone. I charted five games of Watson and his best plays came against man coverage and Rodgers threw him open more than a couple of times. His YPRR vs man was 3rd (!) in the NFL* (3.32) while his YPRR against zone coverage dropped to 32nd in the NFL*(1.65). Learning to find those soft spots in Zone will make him a better PPR producer and not always have to rely on creating big plays. Watson averaged 11.7 PPR fantasy points per game in 2022 which was T-33rd.
Why was Watson much better against man coverage than zone? The details. He eats up the cushion quickly and gives the corner a fade look at the top of the route. Watson sees the shoulders turn to the sideline and it's over. The ball isn't thrown, but he's wide open against the man coverage corner. Manipulation at the top of the route is a big plus for young, deep-threat receivers, just like turning a routine catch into a big-play TD with speed.
Get the ball in his hands and watch him work. The speed shows up vertically and horizontally with his insane acceleration to stack corners as well as reduce pursuit angles to dust. On pure schemed touches alone, his targets and touches should see a nice bump in 2023. The Packers will want to make life easy on Jordan Love to get the most out of him.
Watson finds difficulty when presented with more physical corners at the top of his route or through the route stem. Runs a jet motion here and the linebacker in coverage doesn't have much else to do but hold on at the top of the break and throws off the timing. He still gets open, but Rodgers was moving out of the pocket. He's good after the play breaks down too, looks for space and can create.
He was fifth in drop percentage last season at 10.9%; most won't care about that and if the targets explode for Watson, that won't matter much. His inconsistent ball tracking and catch technique is the biggest culprit, just something to keep an eye on. Paired with his unrefined route tree (a tendency to round off routes and add steps in breakdowns) and there's room for improvement. It's exciting to think about him getting better, too.
Staying on the field will go a long way to helping Watson become a top-tier fantasy receiver, he finished 62nd in targets among qualified WRs with 65. The Packers added three pass catchers on day two of the draft in April to help give the team some reliable pass catchers (Jayden Reed) to go along with Watson and Doubs. Watson had that four-game stretch where he scored eight of his nine touchdowns on the season to go with three games where he had 100+ receiving yards and didn't record over 50 receiving yards in any other game. Consistency, avoiding injury, and learning more about defensive zones will go a long way to helping Watson truly break out in his second year.
Watson lined up outside 67% of the passing snaps he partook in but is a weapon all over the offensive formation. Being used as an outside receiver will keep him on the field for more passing snaps and that'll get him more opportunities in the offense. Jordan Love is still an unknown, but we know Matt LaFleur is a great offensive mind and schemes his best players into great spots. Watson is the most explosive playmaker in Green Bay and will be a focal point of the offense for years ahead. The touchdowns will come in bunches and assuming he takes a leap in his second year developing chemistry with Love, he's primed for a top-20 fantasy finish!
*Receivers with 20% of 185 targets