Very Deep Sleepers: Terrell Watson (Browns)
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Before the 2015 NFL Draft, a guy like Terrell Watson was sure to get a ‘keep an eye on,’ cheap sleeper label applied to him. Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, he was a 6’0″/236-pound running back who rolled up three straight 1,000+ yard seasons for Azusa Pacific, including a senior campaign where he rushed for 2,212 yards, 6.7 yards per carry, and 29 TDs.
His physical size and his performance numbers put him on the NFL Draft radar. However, it didn’t put him on the radar strong enough to get noticed by the pre-draft establishment. Watson was not invited to the Senior Bowl, nor was he invited to the NFL Combine. Fair or not, those are two lethal NFL-career slaps to the face for any NFL Draft prospect hopeful.
Watson went undrafted, and he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals last year. He didn’t create much of a stir, one way or the other, but he played well enough to be one of the final roster cuts and then was quickly squirreled away on the Bengals’ practice squad, where he remained all 2015 season.
After the calendar flipped to 2016, in January, I noticed Watson’s name among the daily transactions – released (practice squad contract allowed to expire) by the Cincinnati Bengals. It wouldn’t have taken much for Cincy to have worked to keep Watson, but they didn’t – not a good sign.
At this point in the timeline, there is absolutely no reason to have any Dynasty-Fantasy interest in Terrell Watson. But then an interesting twist occurred…
The following day, after his Bengals tenure ended, Watson was quickly signed by the Cleveland Browns. Very interesting (strokes imaginary professorial beard). Watson had an intriguing connection to Cleveland – new Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson would have known all about him, working with him while he was the offensive coordinator of the Bengals last year.
Watson has the profile of a monster, a mauler of an NFL running back – a 4.5+ runner, who plays as heavy as 240+ pounds. He lives in the workout room. He’s a chiseled 235–240+, and threw down an impressive 22 reps at his Pro Day bench press. On paper, Terrell Watson is a little faster, a little more agile, a little stronger, a little thicker than Jackson’s Cincinnati bell cow Jeremy Hill.
When I scouted Watson for the 2015 NFL Draft, you couldn’t help but be impressed with the size-speed combo. My knock on him was that he ran with too much finesse. Here’s this Incredible Hulk-like player, considering the level of competition Azusa Pacific faced, and he’s trying to dodge and juke would-be tacklers instead of leaving a dent in them. He ran the ball like a 5′10″/190 running back – that wasn’t going to work at the next level. NFL war rooms must have seen it as well because he went undrafted.
In his 2015 preseason debut, it was the Terrell Watson I remembered – too upright, dancing to avoid one-on-one contact with smaller defenders, skittish. He had a couple of impressive runs in the game, but I saw the things that scared me the most about him. After watching his debut live, I kinda wrote him off for the NFL.
I’m glad I went back and watched all of his 2015 preseason carries again, or I would have missed this next part…
After re-watching his preseason debut, I re-remembered all the scouting negatives. However, something happened when I watched his next preseason outing – it was a different Terrell Watson. Somebody got to him, and fixed him…or he did…or God did. I’d never seen this kind of Terrell Watson – he was running forward, and putting his head down and full-speed smashing into contact. I’d never seen Watson so punishing…the way I wanted him to run when I scouted him in 2015. For the remainder of the preseason, it was the new power running version of Terrell Watson. He completed the 2015 preseason with 24 carries for 130 yards (5.4 yards per carry). He didn’t just push numbers via one huge run, because almost half of his preseason carries were for five or more yards.
Suddenly, there is even more ‘deep sleeper’ Dynasty hope with Watson. It’s most likely a non-PPR ‘hope.’ Watson has average to below-average hands in the passing game. He’ll make his money as a power runner between the tackles…just like Hue Jackson likes.
The Browns drafted 117 wide receivers in the 2016 NFL Draft, but they did not draft a running back. They did not sign a running back of note in free agency. Their current depth chart features the underwhelming Isaiah Crowell…a 10-15-pound smaller version of Watson, and pass-game weapon Duke Johnson. As of today, I would argue Watson might be considered the Browns’ No. 3 running back…the backup to Crowell. I have my non-PPR Fantasy interest piqued on the ‘backup to Crowell‘ part because I think Crowell is not ‘a given’ as an entrenched starter. I also believe Hue Jackson desperately wants to power-run the ball between the tackles, so Watson has to have Hue’s attention. Watson fits the Hue Jackson plan, which is a good thing for Fantasy output.
I don’t envision Watson leapfrogging Crowell in the preseason for an opening-day shocker, but it’s not out of the question. My case would be that if the Browns lose a bunch early in 2016, as I believe they will, and as I believe they expect to during a rebuilding season, then Watson may be more in line to make a move for an audition ahead of Crowell sometime in-season.
The new Browns’ brain trust seems to place a heavy emphasis on character quality. Isaiah Crowell was dismissed by Georgia and wound up at the FCS level. Terrell Watson may be the single most spotless character and the most genuine human in the NFL. Watson is a notoriously hard worker, and his hard work and quality of character may pay off with him landing in the absolute right place at the absolute right time.