Washington State isn’t known for sending cornerbacks to the NFL. In fact, their last drafted CB was Karl Paymah in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Nevertheless, the Cougars’ drought should end this year. CB Jaylen Watson owns an enticing scouting report that could ultimately propel him into the top of Day 3 in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Jaylen Watson NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Washington State
- Current Year: Redshirt senior
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 197
- Wingspan: 76 1/2″
- Arm Length: 32 1/4″
- Hand: 9 5/8″
Jaylen Watson Scouting Report
Watson was listed at 6’3″ and 204 pounds on Washington State’s roster, but Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy stated, “NFL scouts got him at 6’1″ and three quarters and 188 pounds with 32-and-a-quarter-inch arms last spring.” He measured in somewhere in between at 6’2″ and 197 pounds. While we know schools embellish their players’ true size, Watson is still a looming corner.
His length and height combination allows him to contest almost any catch point. Athleticism isn’t Watson’s strength — more on that later — but he isn’t severely hindered in that department. He can keep up downfield with long strides and reportedly ran a 4.46 40-yard dash in junior college.
Watson’s press-coverage ability clamps opposing receivers near the line of scrimmage (LOS). However, his physicality extends far beyond that. He rocks opponents in the open field with walloping hits and can rip or punch out passes even after the reception has been made.
Furthermore, the Washington State DB has experience crushing punt returners as a gunner. That versatility will go a long way in the NFL. Plus, his days as a high school safety paid off, as Watson’s play in run support is one of his strong suits. He can shed blocks from receivers and come up and tackle with the best of them.
More than just impressive size
Watson will be lauded for his frame, but he is much more than that. In 15 games over the last two years, the Washington State CB allowed over 45 yards just once — and that came against 2022’s potential WR1, Drake London. He doesn’t give up big plays and keeps the action in front of him. Wide receiver screens are useless against him, as he sheds blocks and brings down pass catchers with ease. Even if he is further downfield, Watson breaks down well and wraps up opponents by the legs.
Watson is tall, but he isn’t lean. In his senior year of high school, he made it a point to bulk up. Now, he is a solidly built DB that absorbs contact. Multiple times on tape, receivers try to create separation at the top of routes with a push-off against Watson. Yet, with his strength and length, he maintains leverage and often comes away with a pass breakup.
Harkening back to his high school days, Watson split time on both sides of the field, lining up at receiver. Those ball skills are evident, as he consistently gets his hands on passes. He can read the eyes of opposing QBs and knows when to pass off routes and attack others in zone coverage. As far as athleticism, Watson can accelerate up or down when necessary and rarely bites hard on double moves.
Moreover, he is patient during routes and often reads them before receivers finish. Lastly, Watson rarely played around the box, but he is quick enough to come off on a blitz and hit the QB. Even if he doesn’t get there, he can use his exceptional length to at least tip the pass.
Areas for improvement
Criticism is only helpful when it is constructive, which this section aims to be. Let’s start with tackling. Watson is stellar as a run defender and makes big hits nearly every week. But he is sometimes susceptible to poor technique, resulting in missed tackles.
He can drop his head and try to arm tackle occasionally, which bigger players easily run through. The Cougars DB’s angles coming downfield are excellent, but he’s a little more inconsistent trying to triangulate ball carriers on the hoof.
In coverage, Watson sometimes plays with his back to the sideline pre-snap. This automatically leaves a blind spot for comebacks, speed-outs, and other out-breaking routes. He must maintain eye discipline at the next level and not let his man sneak behind him. Furthermore, quicker receivers can burn Watson with slants if he doesn’t get his hands on them at the LOS.
London did just that multiple times in the USC game this year, targeting Watson’s backside and racking up yards on quick slants. The Washington CB isn’t the most fluid in and out of breaks, and his short-area quickness is questionable.
Watson’s NFL Combine and Pro Day results
The following measurements are from Watson’s pro day unless stated.
- 40-yard dash: 4.49 seconds
- Bench press: 18 (performed at the Combine)
- 3-cone drill: 7.15 seconds
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.22 seconds
- Vertical jump: 38″
- Broad jump: 11′
Watson’s Player Profile
Watson’s path from high school to a potential NFL Draft pick was far from straightforward. Hailing from Augusta, Georgia, Watson attended Lucy C. Laney High School. There, he played football and basketball, though his passion lay on the gridiron. As a senior, he was named All-Region 4-AA Offensive Player of the Year as a wide receiver, but defensively, he shined as a DB.
Watson made the cross-country journey and battled in the JUCO ranks for two years, earning first-team All-American honors in each. He generated 8 INTs and 23 PBUs during that time and averaged 16.3 yards on 10 punt returns in 2018. Watson’s play caught the eye of D1 programs all over the nation. In total, he received over 40 total offers and ultimately signed a letter of intent with USC.
Watson could not transfer that fall due to academic eligibility. He returned home to Augusta and got a job at a local Wendy’s where his mom worked. Working there helped cement Watson’s dream, as he didn’t want a typical job for the rest of his life. With newfound motivation, he earned the six A’s he needed to become eligible to transfer to a D1 school.
Washington State assistant head coach John Richardson checked in with Watson throughout the process, making sure he was on track, his family was doing well, and he was alright mentally. Richardson rode the JUCO path in his playing days, so he had experience with what Watson was going through. That bond drove Watson to commit to WSU, and he never wavered.
Watson’s career at Washington State
Upon arriving on campus, Watson chose to wear No. 0 on his jersey, explaining he “didn’t want to give up anything.” Due to COVID-19 impacting the 2020 season, Watson played in just three games. Yet, he showcased his potential, logging a pair of pass breakups and allowing just 7 catches on 17 targets. Against Utah, the Washington State CB had one of the best highlight plays of the year. He gave up a short pass but immediately ripped the ball from the WR’s arms and stole it for a turnover.
His play garnered an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod and had the conference on notice. In 2021, Watson posted 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, and 4 fumble recoveries. Outside of the contest against USC, Watson allowed over 2 receptions just twice. Even more telling, opposing teams targeted him over 4 times in only three games. Cornerback is a volatile position year over year, so for Watson to remain steady in 2021 is extremely impressive.
Watson’s NFL Draft ascension
Watson plays with confidence and a feistiness that is visible on film. He never lets a bad rep set him back, and he is the first one to let his teammates know when they make a great play. It is well-documented that the WSU corner is a leader on and off the field and is one of the hardest workers in any locker room he is in.
His resilience through the JUCO process is admirable, and while personality traits are only a piece of the scouting puzzle, it is integral to a prospect’s ability to withstand the rigors of the NFL. His current path appears to be as a Day 3 pick, but his commitment, effort, size, and play in 2021 should mean he appeals to plenty of teams as a depth option.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Jaylen Watson
Positives: Nice-sized cornerback coming off a terrific season. Shows good awareness, keeps the action in front of him, and sells out to make plays. Quick-footed in reverse, smooth flipping his hips, and stays with assignments. Effectively covers receivers on crossing patterns, works to get involved, and hits hard.
Negatives: Lacks elite speed, shows hesitation in his game, and does a lot of trailing. Gives a very large cushion.
Analysis: Watson possesses the size, athleticism, and skill to line up in dime packages. He flashed a lot of ability as a senior last season. Watson also performed well during Senior Bowl practices and comes with an upside.