It has become obvious that the most intriguing battle at the fringes of the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster will be for the final spots in the wide receiver room. With three established players and one second-round rookie, there are likely either one or two remaining spots to be won.
There are plenty of names to consider.
Undrafted rookie Justyn Ross is the most talked-about player and has received the most hype from the Chiefs’ social media team. Daurice Fountain is a possibility after playing well in last year’s preseason. Cornell Powell and Josh Gordon are looking to bounce back from disappointing attempts to make an impact in 2021.
Yet, there’s one name with NFL experience that hasn’t been brought up much — until quarterback Patrick Mahomes was prompted to talk about wide receiver Justin Watson last Thursday.
“Watson’s been a pleasant surprise for me; that dude can roll,” Mahomes insisted to reporters. “I remember he came down to Texas and I threw with him the first day, and I called Veach and I was like ‘wait, how fast is this guy?’ because he was running so fast I was late on my throws.”
Watson is a 26-year-old, fifth-year player that was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round after playing four seasons at the University of Penn. In four years with the Bucs, Watson totaled 23 catches and 258 yards with two touchdowns.
The speed caught Mahomes off guard, and it might be because of Watson’s size. Watson was listed at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds as a college prospect; yet, at Penn’s Pro Day, he recorded a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, a 40-inch vertical, and still showed off strength by earning 20 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
In the first few days of OTAs, Watson has continued the strong, initial impression he made during the informal throwing workouts — including making what editor Pete Sweeney called the play of the day.
The play of the day was made by... WR Justin Watson. Seriously. During 11s, Watson ran a corner route against McDuffie, and Patrick Mahomes hit him perfectly in stride in the back right of the end zone.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) May 26, 2022
“[Watson] made a big play in the corner of the end zone,” Mahomes reiterated. “It’s important to have these guys get their chances, because when they get their chances, they’re going to go out there and try to make the most of them.”
Watson didn’t get many chances in 2021; he didn’t play a single offensive snap for the Buccaneers and only played 19 snaps on special teams after being a constant in that phase of the game the first three years of his career.
He was featured in the offense much more before Tampa Bay transitioned to Tom Brady as their starting quarterback. Prior to that, Watson had shown reliable hands in tight spaces when catching passes from Jameis Winston.
Justin Watson with his 2nd TD of his career catching this ridiculous throw from Winston. How did he fit this in I don’t know. Over the LB and in between the CB and S. Also technology is crazy these days! pic.twitter.com/fqxupXpqRU— RealBucsTalk (@RealBucsTalk) December 22, 2019
2019 was his best season; he set career highs in every receiving category — including his only two career touchdowns. By the last quarter of that season, he was playing over 50% of the team’s offensive snaps on a weekly basis.
That increased playing time started in that year’s training camp, where he initially showed off his strong hands in tight windows.
What a deep ball by Jameis— Ashlie (@EMT_Ashlie) July 27, 2019
Very nice hands by Justin Watson pic.twitter.com/WegVLeZD3A
Watson fell out of favor with the Brady-led Buccaneers — but when he was trusted with a pass, he was moving the sticks; five of his seven receptions in 2020 led to first downs; he averaged 13.4 yards per reception on those plays.
The bottom line
“He’s got out here these first two days and has had some great days,” Mahomes continued on Watson. “We have a lot of guys in that receiving room that if they don’t make our team, they’ll make other teams. We have a lot of talent in that room; we have reps like this where we’re rotating a lot of different receivers in, you get to see the guys step up and make plays.”
With all the names competing for one or two spots in the receiving corps, any positive comment from the quarterback throwing them the ball should be listened to — and Mahomes’ comments on Watson were more than just throwaway lines or coach speak.
With special-teams impact being very important for the bottom of the depth chart at wide receiver, Watson’s NFL experience there may give him the edge over rookies or other veteran players that aren’t expected to contribute on special teams.
With all that considered, Watson might be the quiet favorite of the group.
Will Justin Watson make the Chiefs’ initial 2022 53-man roster?
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