Leading up to Week 0 games on Aug. 28, HERO Sports is going to name the best returning FCS player by jersey number, 99-0. Due to rosters being updated at different times for teams across the country and to keep things consistent, jersey numbers are based on the 2020 fall-2021 spring season.
Watson’s breakout season came in 2019 as a redshirt sophomore. He led the Bison offense (a run-first unit that barely threw the ball in most second halves as part of a dominant 16-0 season) with 34 catches for 732 yards and six touchdowns. His 21.5 yards per catch ranked No. 4 in the FCS.
Watson also rushed 13 times for 162 yards for one TD. He was named to the All-MVFC Second Team and a HERO Sports Sophomore All-American.
He showed his burst two plays in a row in front of a national TV audience. Tied 7-7 with Montana State in the semifinals, Watson caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Trey Lance on the first play of a drive early in the second quarter. NDSU forced a three-and-out and got the ball back 1.5 minutes later. On the first play of that drive, Watson took a handoff 70 yards to the house.
Watson’s numbers took a hit in the spring of 2021 as NDSU’s downfield passing attack struggled. In the 10 combined games in 2020-21 (one in the fall and nine in the spring), he caught 19 passes for 442 yards and one touchdown along with 21 rushes for 116 yards.
He did make a massive impact on kick returns, though, returning 10 kicks for 338 yards and two TDs. The 33.8 yards per return average was easily the best in the FCS. Watson was named to the All-Conference First Team as a wide receiver, earned four different All-American First Team honors as a kick returner, and the Associated Press named him a First Team All-American as an all-purpose player.
NFL scouts know all about Christian Watson. After all, the number of franchises that watched hours and hours of Trey Lance tape got to see No. 1 plenty of times. He is on the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Watchlist and plans to enter the NFL Draft process after this season. Watson has the option to keep playing college ball in 2022 since 2020-21 was a free year of eligibility.
NDSU should have a better passing attack this fall, and Watson will help as one of the top receivers in the FCS. He is on the Walter Payton Award Watch List, and HERO Sports named him a Second Team All-American return specialist and a Third Team All-American wide receiver.
Check out the latest episode of the FCS Football Talk podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher, and Spreaker.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.