KC Chiefs: Is WR Justin Watson a sleeper to make active roster?

TAMPA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 04: Justin Watson #17 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on before the start of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Raymond James Stadium on October 04, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 04: Justin Watson #17 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on before the start of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Raymond James Stadium on October 04, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

On February 4, 2022, the Kansas City Chiefs signed wide receiver Justin Watson to a one-year deal. Out of the University of Pennsylvania, he spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after they picked him with the 144th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. With the Bucs, he racked up 23 catches for 258 receiving yards and 2 total touchdowns.

Despite not having the resume of a great NFL receiver, Watson has been a “pleasant surprise” for superstar QB Patrick Mahomes this offseason.

Last season, Watson missed the first 15 weeks of the season due to a knee injury suffered that Summer. Because of the injury, he only saw special teams snaps last year and hasn’t played an offensive snap since Week 14 of 2020. He also hasn’t recorded a reception since Week 4 of the 2020 season.

The Kansas City Chiefs signed WR Justin Waston early in the 2022 offseason. Is he a sleeper to potentially make the active roster in a couple of months?

For a wide receiver, 23 catches in four seasons is not all that impressive. A lot of people will write this signing off as just a depth move but could it be more than that? Lance Zierlein, back in 2018 before Waton’s drafting, described Watson’s positives as his size, ball skills, and football character. He also wrote that his weaknesses as his lack of high-level college competition and he is not super elusive after the catch.

Watson was primarily a special teamer in Tampa Bay and never quite got it going with Jameis Winston or Tom Brady. His best stretch of production was Weeks 14 through 17 of 2019 where he recorded 14 catches for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns in four games. Outside, of that one month, his career numbers are 9 catches for 112 yards and no touchdowns.

Even though Justin Watson has never quite put it together as an offensive player, he is still a strong contender to make the Kansas City Chiefs team this season, in part due to his special teams experience. The kick/punt returner role for the Chiefs will be up for grabs this season, and while most may argue it will be Mecole Hardman’s job to lose, Watson does have a little NFL experience in that role. According to Pro Football Focus ($), Watson has returned a total of 5 kicks/punts for a total of 22 yards, plus an additional 5 fair catches. Despite the experience, Watson would likely serve as a coverage/blocking guy on those snaps and not necessarily a returner.

Another reason why his special teams experience will set him apart is that the Chiefs are short on true special teamers at the wide receiver position. Out of the assumed roster locks at wide receiver, the ST experience isn’t amazing. Juju Smith-Schuster has barely played on special teams since his rookie season, same with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Mecole Hardman will likely see his offensive role increase and wouldn’t play a ton of special teams snaps that involve him not serving as a returner. Skyy Moore is a rookie and a premium pick was used on him so I don’t think the Chiefs will go out of their way to play him on special teams. None of those players would likely serve as gunners on special teams anyways.

Watson’s roster bubble competition includes Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon, Justyn Ross, Daurice Fountain, and Cornell Powell. Out of all of the previously mentioned players, only Fountain has significant ST experience in the NFL. Since most teams will carry six wide receivers in a given regular season, I believe that it is relatively safe to say that 4 of the 6 spots are “locked in” and 2 will be up for grabs.

Many Chiefs fans view Josh Gordon as a lock to make the team, while others see Justyn Ross as a lock so Kansas City wouldn’t risk placing him on waivers. In my opinion, Ross will have to show growth as a receiver in training camp to make the team. Given his health concerns, I think that it would make sense for the Chiefs to stash him on the practice squad rather than risk his health as a special teamer.

This is where Justin Watson can find his opening to make the team. If he, like Ross as well as Fountain, can show progress as a receiver, that will greatly increase his chance of making the team since they’re all relatively young. Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon will probably be offense-only players, so if Watson impresses Andy Reid and co. enough in August at wideout, then that may be enough for him to supersede both of them.

Although the odds are stacked against Justin Watson to make the Chiefs opening week roster, he could end up serving a critical role down the stretch for a team that is going through a transition phase at the wide receiver position. And if he can build up chemistry with Patrick Mahomes, then anything is possible.

What do you think of Justin Watson? Do you think that he will make the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster before the season? Feel free to let me know in the comment section or on Twitter (@StrozinskyLucas).

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