Jaylen Watson’s Division I football career spanned just 15 games, but the cornerback made a splash during his brief stay at Washington State.
Scouts couldn’t help but notice the raw talent out on “Wat’s Island” – Watson’s nickname for his side of the field, where few Pac-12 receivers succeeded over the past two years.
The Georgia native emerged quickly as a potential pro prospect, and after a short yet impactful stop in Pullman, Wat’s Island is headed to the NFL.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Watson in the seventh round with the 243rd overall pick of the draft on Saturday.
And they may have gotten a steal in Watson, who had been projected by some experts to be taken in the fifth round and as early as the fourth. Pro Football Focus considered Watson the No. 187 overall prospect in the draft.
“He’s athletic, opportunistic,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Tracking the ball is going to be an issue, but he’s good against the run. Consistency will be the big thing. He has the length and size to match up against big receivers, but late in routes is where he has to be better.
“The talent is there, the size is there. The ability to be coached up is going to determine whether he’s going to stick on that roster.”
NFL recruiters and experts like Watson’s strength, size and aggressive playing style, but many of them agreed that he needs work on his fundamentals and improve his agility on short routes.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Watson allowed only one reception across three games in the Cougars’ four-game 2020 season and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. NFL buzz increased as he entered his senior year. Physical with a long reach, Watson allowed two or more receptions in just three games last season and collected another all-conference honorable mention.
Watson permitted more than 45 yards in a game once in his career – he couldn’t contain USC’s Drake London, a first-round draft choice, on Sept. 18 in Pullman.
Otherwise, opposing quarterbacks didn’t try to pick on Watson, who often blanketed the most talented receivers Pac-12 foes could offer and wasn’t afraid to get involved in the ground game.
As a Cougar, Watson registered 44 tackles, six pass deflections and two interceptions. He decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and declared for the draft in December.
Watson boosted his draft stock with a consistent Senior Bowl in February and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine last month. He impressed at WSU’s pro day March 28, recording a 38-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump.
From Augusta, Georgia, Watson was a star receiver at Lucy C. Laney High and won his region’s offensive player of the year award. He was recruited lightly and spent his first two collegiate seasons at Ventura College in California. Watson picked off eight passes in his junior college career and was twice named a juco All-American.
He signed with USC in 2019 but could not enroll due to academic issues and spent a year away from football, working in the service industry while improving his grades. Watson attained eligibility and committed to WSU in June 2020. Not long after he arrived in Pullman, Watson’s pro potential became a talking point.
Watson is the first WSU cornerback to be drafted since 2005, when Karl Paymah went to Denver in the third round. Watson and right tackle Abraham Lucas were the only two Cougars to be drafted this year. The Seattle Seahawks picked Lucas in the third round Friday.
A handful of other former Cougar standouts reportedly landed undrafted free-agent deals shortly after the seventh round concluded Saturday.
Running back Max Borghi inked a deal with the Indianapolis Colts within minutes of the draft’s final selection. Borghi, who finished his WSU career with 41 touchdowns – tied for the program’s all-time scoring record – sustained an ankle injury at the Senior Bowl, which set him back this offseason and ultimately hurt his draft stock. He was a limited participant at the combine and the Cougs’ pro day.
Prolific slotback Travell Harris agreed to sign with the Cleveland Browns as a UDFA. Harris racked up 1,999 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns on 179 catches over the past four seasons. He landed on the All-Pac-12 second team in 2021 after totaling 814 yards and nine TDs.
Versatile defensive back Daniel Isom is joining the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams on an undrafted deal. Isom made 10 starts at strong safety and one at nickel last year, and logged 57 tackles, three pass deflections and an interception before suffering a season-ending foot injury Nov. 19 against Arizona. He has experience at the free safety and cornerback positions, too.
Wide receiver Tay Martin, a WSU outside receiver from 2017-19 who finished his career at Oklahoma State, signed an UDFA contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Safety Skyler Thomas, a Cougar starter from 2018-19 who transferred to Liberty, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Other local players
Walter Payton Award winner and record-setting Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere received a minicamp invite from Denver. Eastern Washington lineman Tristen Taylor and wide receiver Talolo Limu-Jones were signed as undrafted free agents by Chicago and Carolina, respectively.
Idaho linebacker Tre Walker was signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington, and defensive lineman Noah Elliss signed with Philadelphia.
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