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NFL Draft analyst says Bison receiver Christian Watson has potential to be a top-100 draft selection

Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic, said Bison wide receiver Christian Watson could be a Day 2 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson leaps to snare a pass reception for a first down against Montana State during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

FARGO — Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic sports website, said North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson is currently viewed as a mid-round selection for the upcoming NFL Draft, but added there's room to grow that stock in the coming weeks and months.

The first step in that process comes early next month. Watson has accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Ala. The Senior Bowl is considered the top college all-star game for NFL Draft eligible prospects.

“If the pre-draft process goes according to plan, he runs really well, he shows out at the Senior Bowl, does everything he needs to do, then he has a legitimate chance to be a Day 2 prospect, sneak into those top 100 picks,” said Brugler, who said scouts he's contacted currently view Watson as a third-to-fifth round selection.

The NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 28-30 in Las Vegas, is seven rounds with the second and third rounds held on the second day of the three-day event.

Watson completed his Bison career with four receptions for 61 yards against Montana State in NDSU’s 38-10 victory to win the NCAA Division I FCS championship in Frisco, Texas. The 6-foot-5, 208-pound Watson had missed the three previous playoff games with a hamstring injury.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson holds the title trophy after the win over Montana State in the FCS championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Watson caught three passes in the first quarter against the Bobcats in a game that saw the Bison rush for 378 yards.

“I don’t think it had any substantial ramifications,” Brugler said of Watson’s performance in the FCS title game. “Probably what you felt going in, was probably how you felt about him coming out. I don’t think there was anything big there, especially with the way that game progressed with the way they just ran it down Montana State’s throats.”

Watson played in 52 games during his Bison career, finishing with 105 catches for 2,140 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 20.4 yards per catch for his career. He also rushed for 392 yards and two touchdowns on 49 attempts over four seasons.

“The career that he’s put together kind of speaks for itself,” Brugler said.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson loses his footing as he cuts away from Montana State's Troy Anderson during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

The one thing Watson didn’t get to do at NDSU is play against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. The Bison were scheduled to play at Oregon, a Power Five school in the Pac-12 Conference, during the 2020 season, but that game was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. That would have been Watson’s lone chance to play against an FBS team.

Brugler said that's why the Senior Bowl is important for Watson.

“It’s the same conversation we had last year with Trey Lance, not having that experience against a top-tier defense, but Trey Lance obviously still went 3 overall,” Brugler said of the former Bison quarterback who is in his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. “Not having that experience is not going to hurt him per se, but it’s something teams are going to want to see going up against really good corners in 1-on-1s. That’s the best part of the Senior Bowl is practices during the week, 1-on-1s, how is he going to do against press man against a physical corner.”

Watson played in 12 games during his final season with the Bison, catching 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 18.6 yards per reception. He also rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown on 15 attempts.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson readies for kickoff of the FCS championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Watson was also a dangerous kick returner during his career, averaging 26.4 yards per return over four seasons. Last spring, he returned two kicks for touchdowns.

“That is something that is going to only help him,” Brugler said.

Earlier this week, WDAY-TV sports director Dom Izzo reported that Watson had been invited to the NFL Combine, which is in early March.

“He’s got that long, athletic frame,” Brugler said. “He’s got that gliding speed and those long strides, they just eat up grass. It doesn’t necessarily look like he’s like a track star out there, but because those strides are so long and he’s gliding, he’s just running by guys and the corners are not closing the gap. He can accelerate with that build-up speed and then have that pull-away gear.

“Defenders aren’t able to catch him. I think he’s very quarterback friendly. He’ll work back to the ball, he’ll climb the ladder, pull throws down, he’s got a very flexible upper half so he can adjust to those balls outside of his frame.”

Brugler said Watson doesn’t have any glaring holes in his game, but there is room for improvement in multiple areas.

“I think that we’ve seen steady improvement from him as a route runner,” said Brugler, who added Watson's slender frame could also be an area of concern in matchups against physical NFL cornerbacks. “Still a work in progress in terms of being a detailed route runner and doing all the things he needs to do to be a productive pro, but he’s on track. He’s improving and getting better with each year.

“Maybe he dropped more balls than you would like to see, but his hands aren’t a substantial problem at all, just more cleaning up some of the focus issues. There’s nothing about his game that you necessarily think is a detriment, that is going to hold him back, be something that is going to keep him from being a productive pro, but he just needs to work on a few things.”

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Watson was initially invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl before he accepted an invitation from the Senior Bowl in the week leading up to the FCS championship game.

“I was excited to see him go to the Shrine game and then excited to see him get the call up to the Senior Bowl, which he should have been one of the first invites,” Brugler said. “When you look at these wide receivers, I thought he was a no-brainer among the seniors, but it’s going to be important for him going up against the top-tier competition.”

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North Dakota State's Costner Ching, Cody Mauch and Cordell Volson celebrate the win over Montana State after the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Brugler said Bison senior offensive tackle Cordell Volson also has the potential to get drafted in the spring. He projects the 6-foot-7, 313-pound Volson as a sixth- or seventh-round selection or a priority rookie free agent signing after the draft.

“He’s a guy that’s really aggressive with his hands,” Brugler said. “His punch is not the most forceful, but it’s usually on time and he does a nice job mid-shuffle getting his hands out there to try to shut down rushers. … I think he does a nice job of resetting at contact, getting his feet underneath him, so I do think Volson has a chance of being a late-round pick.”

Volson played both tackle and guard during his career at NDSU, playing in 65 games. Volson is set to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, which is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 3, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

“I think he can stay outside. He doesn’t have that elite lateral range, that lateral agility, it’s good, not great, but I think he’s very coordinated with his setup with his movements. He keeps his feet underneath him, he doesn’t lean and overextend himself,” Brugler said. “He likes to use that punch and that’s something that will help him. I think it needs to be a little more forceful, you wish it was a little more explosive, rushers will be able to see it coming a little bit and that’s what you worry about. … You draft him as a tackle and maybe think about moving him inside to guard.”

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