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Dynasty Rookie Report Card: Christian Watson and Jalen Virgil

We cover the rookie wide receiver everyone is talking about, and another who found the end zone last week.

Christian Watson

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, rookie season potential and long-term upside.

The series continues as we take a look at receivers Christian Watson and Jalen Virgil.

Christian Watson, WR GB

Week Ten Stats: four receptions, 107 yards, three touchdowns (eight targets) | Week 11 Stats: four receptions, 48 yards, two touchdowns (six targets)

Having watched a lot of North Dakota State football over the last handful of years, I’ve learned that Bison play a tough brand of football and that stretches through the entire roster. Watson embodied that philosophy throughout his time in Fargo despite his blazing speed and freakish leaping ability.

Watson is a worker. He plays with 100% effort on every play whether he’s blocking or running a go route. Incredibly fast for a guy who measures in at 6’-4” and 211 pounds, he blazed a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted a 38.5-inch vertical and 136” broad jump.

On tape, Watson is a superstar as a deep threat. Smooth and savvy as he glides past defenders, he shows excellent focus, tracks the ball well, and has the ability to make acrobatic catches look easy. Jump balls and throws outside of his frame are rarely outside his reach as his leaping ability and long arms create a massive catch radius.

Also an elite kick returner throughout his college career, Watson is very dangerous in the open field and offers big play opportunities after the catch, on crossing routes and bubble screens. He even made plays as a runner, on jet sweeps as well as traditional outside zone runs.

Many claim the biggest weakness in Watson’s game is his inconsistent hands, which isn’t exactly accurate. He has good hands and looks very natural catching the ball away from his frame. He gets himself into trouble when he allows the ball to get into his body, however. Footballs tend to bounce off his chest regularly when he doesn’t secure them with only his hands.

If there’s a part of Watson’s game he really needs to work on outside of catching the ball, it’s as a route runner. Not yet the technician you’d like a guy with his raw skills to be, he almost exclusively ran go routes, deep overs, and crossing routes with the Bison. He’ll need to broaden his route tree, using that deep speed to turn cornerbacks around before breaking off his route sharply in order to unlock his true upside. At this point, he rounds off too many routes and hasn’t developed the subtle head fakes and footwork to get defensive backs off balance at the top of his routes.

When Watson landed with the Packers early in the second round of the draft, dynasty managers were split on where he belonged on rookie draft cheat sheets. Going anywhere between the mid-first and mid-second round, he was seen by most as the most “boom or bust” prospect in dynasty rookie drafts.

Since being drafted, Watson has suffered through multiple injuries and has been the butt of many jokes in the dynasty community. His dropped 75-yard touchdown on the opening play of the Packers’ season got things going in the wrong direction and honestly, it was all downhill from there. Missing multiple games due to head, knee and ankle injuries, he caught just 10 balls in the first nine weeks (six games) for 88 yards and added 19 rushing yards and a touchdown run on three carries.

With some dynasty managers already proclaiming him a bust before he played his seventh NFL game, a lot was on the line when Watson faced the Cowboys in week ten. With Romeo Doubs and Randall Cobb on injured reserve, the rookie had a chance to play a bigger role and didn’t disappoint. Catching four of eight passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns, he made multiple big plays. Truthfully, however, it could have been a bigger game.

Watson failed to track a deep ball late in the game that was perfectly thrown and dropped a very catchable ball (which he allowed into his body) which could have added two more receptions, 60 yards and perhaps another touchdown to his ledger.

Although the negatives from the Dallas game are noteworthy, it would be difficult for even the biggest Watson naysayer to cast much doubt on his performance. His deep touchdown was tracked perfectly as he had to bend his route to the sideline to make the over-the-shoulder catch (and the backflip celebration was just as impressive). The deep crosser for another score showed exactly how lethal he can be against man-to-man coverage as he left rookie corner DaRon Bland in his dust. Then he did the same to Malik Hooker and Kelvin Joseph on another crosser that went for a seven-yard score.

Then, just four days later on Thursday night, Watson had another landmark game. Catching four passes for 48 yards and two more touchdowns on six targets, he was once again the Packers’ big play and red zone threat.

After five touchdowns in the span of four days, many of the doubters are suggesting selling Watson after his breakout but I’m not willing the take a pair of second-round picks for him at this point. I’d rather see this thing out. Dripping with potential, his ultimate upside if he puts all this raw athletic ability together is a top-ten fantasy wideout. While I admit his floor might be right around that of Marquez Valdes-Scantling the truth is he will likely land somewhere in between. I’m willing to bet he’ll end up much closer to a dynasty WR1 than a dynasty WR6 like MVS.

Jalen Virgil, WR DEN

Week Ten Stats: one reception, 66 yards, one touchdown (one target)

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Jalen Virgil until I watched him catch a 66-yard touchdown on NFL Red Zone on Sunday afternoon. But I’ll also tell you I spent 45 minutes watching every highlight package I could find of his Appalachian State film along with his work from the preseason.

What I saw from Virgil was eyebrow-raising. A speedster with 4.4 wheels, he’s surprisingly explosive for a guy his size (6’-1”, 210 pounds) and has great leaping ability (36.5 vertical.) Although he seems limited to only vertical and crossing routes at this point in his development and he never caught more than 24 passes in a season in college, his raw speed and impressive run-after-catch ability makes him an intriguing deep sleeper for dynasty players.

In Virgil’s time in college, he was especially effective on kick returns. Averaging 30.1 yards per return and scoring three times, he looks a little like Cordarrelle Patterson returning kicks. Tall and lanky with long strides, he has a knack for hitting creases at full speed and outrunning defender angles.

As we saw on his touchdown catch against the Titans, Virgil has speed to burn. Again, the route wasn’t impressive. It was a go route and a busted coverage but Virgil appeared to be moving at a different speed than the Tennessee defense.

It wasn’t the first time Virgil made a big play for the Broncos either. In their preseason game against the Cowboys, he hauled in a 42-yard bomb from Brett Rypien that was a thing of beauty. From their own one-yard line he roasted the defensive back in man coverage on a go-route and caught a well-placed ball with the safety bearing down on him.

Sunday was Virgil’s first time being active for Denver and he likely wouldn’t have seen the field if not for Jerry Jeudy’s early injury. Nevertheless, he played 24 snaps, ran 17 routes and caught his only target of the game. Splitting time with Tyrie Cleveland behind Courtland Sutton and Kendall Hinton on Sunday, and only active because of injuries to KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick, it’s going to be an uphill climb for Virgil to become any more than a very deep sleeper for dynasty managers. No matter, I put a couple of waiver claims in for him in my deep leagues where I had roster spots available due to guys going on injured reserve.

 

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Dynasty Rookie Report Card: Christian Watson and Jalen Virgil
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