Christian Watson is Being Drafted at His Fantasy Football Ceiling

May 24, 2023
Christian Watson is Being Drafted at His Fantasy Football Ceiling

If someone were to look at the expected top receivers on NFL teams this year, they would probably be quite surprised at the Packers. That’s because relatively unknown second-year wideout Christian Watson suddenly finds himself as Green Bay's #1 receiving option. As a result, Watson has skyrocketed up fantasy football draft boards this season and is currently being selected as the overall WR19 per Underdog ADP. Here’s a look at why fantasy managers should pump the brakes on Watson as a breakout candidate in 2023.

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Watson’s Rookie Year in Review

After being selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Watson had a solid rookie campaign last year. He racked up 611 receiving yards, which was fifth among all rookies, and led the Packers with nine total touchdowns (7 receiving, 2 rushing). He finished the season as the overall WR34 in fantasy, putting up 10.3 fantasy points per game. Watson primarily operated as a deep threat for the Packers last season with an average target distance of 13.8 yards, which was 12th in the entire NFL. Watson took a leap during the second half of the season and was actually the WR7 from Week 10 onwards. However, he was rather touchdown-dependent—during that timespan, he only eclipsed five receptions once.

While Watson certainly had a promising rookie season, it remains unclear if he can be the WR1 in an offense. Watson struggled as a route runner in 2022—according to ReceptionPerception, Watson was in the 33rd percentile in success rate against man coverage, and the 37th percentile in success rate against zone. He also had an 11.6% drop rate, which was the second worst among all receivers. So, even though Watson used his physical tools to succeed in his rookie year, I’m concerned that he won’t be able to separate against the elite cornerbacks who will now be guarding him.

The Packers’ Offense in 2023

Another variable surrounding Watson’s situation is the Packers' offense. With Aaron Rodgers now in New York, Jordan Love will be the starting QB in Green Bay. Quite frankly, we have no idea how good Love is as a player. He has made just one start in his three-year career thus far and has thrown only 83 passes in total. The Packers will also place a large emphasis on the run game, as they continue to employ the two-headed monster of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon—Green Bay was 18th in the league in neutral-down pass frequency with Rodgers last season.

There is no doubt that Watson will see volume this season—the people behind him on the depth chart include Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure, and Dontayvion Wicks. However, whether or not that volume will be valuable is a different question. It is very rare that a receiver is able to consistently produce with subpar quarterback play. Of the top 15 fantasy receivers last season, only two (Tyler Lockett and Terry McLaurin) had a QB that was outside the top 10 in EPA per play. If we expand those bounds to QBs outside the top 20 in EPA per play, just four receivers have finished in the top-15 in the last four seasons—Mclaurin in 2022, Diontae Johnson in 2021, Robert Woods in 2020, and Allen Robinson in 2019. Considering we hardly know anything about Love, it’s difficult to project him as anything other than a mediocre quarterback, which is a bad sign for Watson.

Assessing Watson’s Floor and Ceiling

Currently, it feels like Watson is being drafted at his ceiling. All four of the aforementioned players who succeeded despite bad quarterback play did so on the back of ridiculous amounts of volume, averaging 143 targets. As a prospect, Watson simply isn’t built for that type of volume considering he’s a big-play threat with shortcomings as a route runner. This means that unless Love takes the NFL by storm and is able to make some of the incredible deep throws that Aaron Rodgers could, Watson has the makings of a streaky fantasy option that will offer little consistency. That profile is fine for a later-round player, but for someone going in the middle of the fourth round, I would much rather take more proven guys like Amari Cooper or D.J. Moore, who have much lower chances of severely disappointing fantasy managers.

The Bottom Line

  • Watson is an exciting receiver who had a solid rookie season, excelling as a deep threat. However, he struggled to get separation and was prone to drops, making it hard to trust him as a #1 option playing against shutdown corners.
  • New Packers QB Jordan Love will play a huge role in Watson’s success—if he plays well, he can elevate the Packers' offense and make Watson fantasy-relevant. Otherwise, it will be difficult for Watson to produce considering the troubling historical precedent of wide receivers with bad quarterbacks.
  • Overall, it will be difficult for Watson to outperform his ADP of WR19, and fantasy managers are better off taking more established players at that spot.
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