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Justin Watson: Buried Treasure

The University of Pennslyvania is known for many things: being America’s first university, it’s Ivy League education, the Wharton School of Business, and building the first general-purpose digital computer. Football, on the other hand, doesn’t immediately come to mind for the school in Philadelphia. However, we shouldn’t overlook their latest draftee, Justin Watson. He was selected with the seventh pick in the fifth round, No. 144 overall, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While it’s hard to get excited about a Day 3 pick, Watson has the kind of profile to succeed at the next level. 

Justin Watson, Penn, 6-2, 215

Watson made an immediate impact at the college level, playing in all ten games as the team’s third receiver in 2014. His 42 receptions and 497 receiving yards are both Penn freshman records and his 16 percent Dominator Rating (DR) playing behind two seniors is strong. With the depth chart ahead of him clear entering 2015, Watson ascended in a big way as a sophomore. He absorbed the target void almost single-handedly with 74 receptions, while the No. 2 receiver at Penn only had 29. His 1,082 yards and 9 touchdowns also easily led the team at 45 and 36 percent market shares. A DR of 41 percent in only his second season is impressive.

Year Class G Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Team Passing Team TDs MS Yards MS TD Dom
2014 Fr. 10 42 497 2 2,743 15 0.18 0.13 0.16
2015 So. 10 74 1082 9 2,429 25 0.45 0.36 0.41
2016 Jr. 10 89 1115 8 2,277 18 0.49 0.44 0.47
2017 Sr. 10 81 1083 14 2144 20 0.51 0.70 0.61

Despite fewer yards and touchdowns as a team the following year, Watson once again was the focal point of the offense with 89 receptions. He improved his yardage total to 1,115 (49 percent market share) and found the paint eight times (44 percent market share) to up his DR to 47 percent and was a Finalist for Walter Payton Award as FCS Offensive Player of The Year. He entered elite territory as a senior, eclipsing a 50 percent market share of yards and accounting for 70 percent of Penn’s receiving touchdowns. A DR above 50 is rarified air and above 60, even at the FCS level, should give you a case of the fantasy hot flashes.

THE PROSPECT

Anthony Amico gave a cursory look at the upcoming FCS talent in February. From a production standpoint, Watson’s easy to fall in love with as his career market share of receiving yards and receiving touchdowns are both 41 percent. When that production occurs is also important. Watson eclipsed the 30 percent DR needed to break out at age 19.7 as a true sophomore, giving him a breakout age equal to D.J. Moore‘s. Moore is the only name you’ll find ahead of him in this year’s Phenom Index.

WR School F Age F MS yds Phenom Index
D.J. Moore Maryland 20.71 53.70% 4.643
Justin Watson Penn 21.74 50.50% 3.212
Antonio Callaway Florida 19.98 27.90% 3.066
Deontay Burnett Southern Cal 20.24 26.60% 2.664
Jordan Lasley UCLA 21.13 35.60% 2.503

Like fellow FCS draftee Daurice Fountain, Watson was not invited to the NFL combine. But with over 20 teams in attendance, Watson put on a show at his pro day. He measured at 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, with 9 1/4-inch hands and 33 3/4-inch arms. Using his pro-day 40 of 4.44 seconds, Watson’s Freak Score of 73 is only bested by Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 76, and leapfrogs D.J. Chark and Allen Lazard at 72. A 40-inch vertical at his size is also another advantage and would have placed him near the top at the combine. With Watson, we get the best of both worlds with strong production and athleticism.

OPPORTUNITY

Watson’s overall profile is easy to get excited about but it will likely not pay immediate dividends. He lands on a Tampa Bay team that did not vacate any air yards from 2017 and is in the bottom five for ADP opportunity score.

chart

Finding targets in Year 1 is going to be difficult without injuries to those ahead of him. With Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin, the top three roles are defined. Adam Humpries did receive 83 targets last year and could still be a factor in 2018. Throw in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard at tight end and projecting Watson for even a small role this season becomes difficult. Hope comes in 2019, though, as Humphries is an unrestricted free agent after this season and Jackson can be cut before June 1st without any dead money.

Landing spot and draft capital are the two biggest marks against Watson’s otherwise stellar profile. He’s a Day 3 draft pick that was not invited to the combine and will have to overcome the rise in competition level and fight for a roster spot. It’s no secret we love age-adjusted production at RotoViz and Watson certainly has that covered, along with the athleticism to play all over the field. He is an excellent low-cost addition to the back end of your roster or taxi squad for all teams, starting in the late third round of rookie drafts. Watson could step into a useful role in 2019 and his value should rise.

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