Fantasy Court: The Case For Christian Watson in 2023 (Fantasy Football)
This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court Series. Don’t forget to check out The Case Against Christian Watson by Aaron Larson for his opposing view.
Your Honor, my client is being dragged down draft boards to absolutely zero fault of his own. He was one of the most explosive players in the NFL last season, but all anyone can talk about is that he no longer has Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
Honorable members of the court, Christian Watson is a unique talent going much later in the draft than he deserves at WR24. He is primed for a year two breakout, and history shows us the precedent for my client being a sleeping giant for fantasy football this year. I intend to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christian Watson is not only underwhelmingly drafted but is a sneaky WR1 waiting in the wings for managers to trust him.
Speed is THE Great Equalizer
In the NFL, speed kills. There is no defensive scheme for it. There is no formula for controlling it. Speed is an unfair advantage creator. The good news for Christian Watson is that this advantage is on his side. Last year, according to NFL NextGenStats, Watson was clocked at a top speed of 21.72 miles per hour on the NFL field. That tied him for the fourth-fastest ball carrier last year.
Watson became a unique weapon for a Green Bay team that floundered on offense in 2022. Head Coach Matt LaFleur found ways to utilize Watson’s ability to burn defenders, which created big plays and many touchdowns. Last season he had three games where he averaged over 20 yards per catch, all while Aaron Rodgers nursed an injured thumb. Yes, we know Rodgers has been a great deep ball thrower throughout his career, but last season he took a dip in accuracy on his deep balls. Still, my client produced 183 deep ball reception yards and three deep ball touchdowns. How did this happen, you ask? Because Christian Watson is an exceptional talent with abilities that you cannot teach in the NFL.
Look around your fantasy league, and find those other speed-threat players. Tyreek Hill, who, yes has a longer positive track record, is currently the WR4 in drafts, even though he has just as big of an issue at the QC position with the injury risks that Tua Tagovailoa represents. Why is he being drafted so confidently? Because NFL players who can outrun their opponent anytime and create big touchdowns are unique weapons for fantasy football. I understand my client is younger and has not proven it year after year like Mr. Hill. I am not arguing that Watson is at the same value as Tyreek, but teams need to see the kind of upside that my client represents for your roster.
The Year Two Precedent
We routinely look to second-year WRs for the “year two breakout.” Several players are being drafted this year with that year two breakout mentality. Watson just isn’t one of them.
Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are both seen as these breakouts ready to happen and yet they both had similar seasons to Christian Watson in 2022. Watson had five games where he finished as the WR13 or higher last season—two more than Olave and the same number as Wilson. Based on history, we know that year two WRs who produced good rookie seasons are prime candidates to level up. Look no further than last year when Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Devonta Smith took big jumps in year two. They all saw their snap and target percentage rise in their second year, precisely what Christian Watson needs to become more reliable for fantasy managers.
Yes, I know that my client was hot and cold last year. But he was a rookie figuring out the NFL and dealt with multiple injury problems throughout the season. Despite that, he produced four WR1 weeks during the season – only one less than Waddle or Smith, who are seen as guaranteed WR2s with WR1 upside. In comparison, Watson is a fringe WR2 at his current ADP of WR24. Here is the reality – last season, in all but one game where Christian Watson saw at least 80% of the snaps, he finished WR13 or better. Did he struggle with health last year? Yes. Lots of rookies battle with health. Did he start the season slow? Yes. Lots of rookies start slow. The truth is that when my client was on the field, he was clearly a focal point of the offense, and now he enters year two, ready to be used even more! So, why is Christian Watson viewed as a low-end WR2 or worse?
I believe my client is unfairly punished for the fact that his team changed QBs going into this season.
The QB Conundrum
I know we have no idea what Jordan Love can do on an NFL field. I am aware that my client depends on Love to throw him catchable passes. I am also aware that the two other second-year WRs mentioned above are changing their QBs and are not facing any downgrade due to that issue.
All jokes aside, it isn’t as if Jordan Love and Christian Watson have never worked together. Love was on the team last year and threw a touchdown pass to Watson during the season. Meanwhile, Garrett Wilson, valued much more highly than Watson, is working with Watson’s QB, Aaron Rodgers, from last year for the first time. Look at Olave, whose new QB, Derek Carr, was benched last season for not being able to get it done on the NFL field with Davante Adams as his primary target. Sure, we have seen Rodgers and Carr more, and at least as far as Rodgers is concerned, we have seen him be elite. They have both produced elite pass catchers for fantasy purposes before. But if we take it as the law that those two new QBs will jump into the season firing on all cylinders and make Wilson and Olave elite WRs, we need to recognize that Watson could do the same.
Love is a massive question mark. Whether or not he can be a starting-caliber QB in the NFL is yet to be determined. But, in 2020, the Packers felt strongly enough to trade up and take him in the draft’s first round. As a reminder, Love was drafted as the fourth QB off the board in 2020, above Jalen Hurts. We cannot hold it against Love that Rodgers had two back-to-back MVP seasons after Love joined the team. I wouldn’t take the MVP off the field for a younger QB either. In Love’s career, we have seen him play one game as the starter in 2021. Guess what happened? He was bad. So were Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert. Herbert had the best debut of all of those guys, mainly because he got in a shootout with Patrick Mahomes and had to keep throwing the ball the entire game.
I am not arguing that Jordan Love will jump right into the fold of the 2020 QB class and be great, but we need not bury him before he can show what he can do.
It isn’t as if my client had sterling NFL QB play last season when Rodgers struggled consistently with throwing accurate passes. Yet he still produced multiple WR1 weeks. Why? Because he doesn’t need much to be elite, he is elite and drags whoever is throwing the ball with him.
Look at this roster and the pass-catching options. The first thing you will notice is that everyone is very young. Their oldest WR is 25 years old and he doesn’t play much. They drafted two tight ends and a wide receiver this year, but with Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Robert Tonyan leaving, the team had severe gaps to fill. So, who is the actual competition for Watson?
Of course, Aaron Jones is a significant target machine. He is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL and deservingly gets a fair share of the targets. That is where the talent line stops before Watson. It is Aaron Jones and no one else. Romeo Doubs will be the theoretical other starting WR for the team, and he had some flashes last season. Despite playing in fewer games, he did have more targets than Watson last year, and he has been getting lots of talk in camp. I don’t want to gloss over Doubs as a capable running mate for Watson, however, the Packers have 217 targets to redistribute to their current roster. Of course, those won’t all go to Watson and Doubs alone but they both had over 60 targets last year. If you give them each 60 more, they are both in the 120+ target range, and the Packers still have 97 other targets for their rookies to fight over.
Even splits are rare in football, and it is a short jump for Watson to be in the ballpark range of 120-144 targets; that is the average target percentage for WR1s in fantasy football. If you took Watson’s targets last year and averaged them out for an entire season, he would have seen 81 targets on the season. Again, they have so many targets to redistribute that if you gave Watson those 60 targets added to his 81, he has 141 targets just by staying healthy for the season.
Then look at the red zone. Watson was a touchdown machine last year. He caught seven touchdowns in four weeks. His speed obviously makes him a significant deep play threat, and his three deep pass touchdowns show he can deliver on that potential. That leaves four other touchdowns he scored last year in the red zone. Why was he so effective in these short-yardage situations? Because he is also 6’4″ tall and 208 lbs. He can use that large frame to high-point passes and box out opponents for receptions in that goal-to-go area of the field. While his pace of touchdown scoring may not be sustainable from last year, there is no reason to believe that Watson wouldn’t be able to produce at least seven touchdowns this season, if not more, due to his big play ability and his size. Again, who else is going to catch those passes? Doubs is also bigger-bodied, so he could also see some of those targets, but they are the only real players with experience, outside of Aaron Jones, that are actual pass-catching options.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client Christian Watson is being woefully undervalued in fantasy football drafts this season. He should be considered a prime target for a breakout season but instead is passed over time and time again for players who lack several of his God-given abilities. Mr. Watson is a big-bodied receiver with elite speed. These traits make him a threat to score from anywhere. He proved last year that he would produce for his team when on the field.
I know the Packers are going through a quarterback change and could experience a lower-caliber season on the offensive side of the ball. However, there are so many vacated targets from 2022 that my client should see a reasonably significant uptick in target percentage. Outside of the quarterback, the only argument is that Watson missed time due to injury last season. Injuries happen in football, so every player risks missing time. Holding that against a player after only one season is entirely without cause. If we assume health, as we genuinely must at the beginning of every season, my client is easily on the cusp of being an upper-echelon WR in the NFL. His talent and opportunity say so, and soon the fantasy community should say so. His cost is unfairly low in ADP, which should make him an automatic grab for managers looking for a WR in the fourth and fifth rounds. I rest my case.