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2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Nathaniel Watson (LB – Mississippi State)

2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Nathaniel Watson (LB – Mississippi State)

FantasyPros will be taking a look at early NFL Draft scouting reports before the Combine in March. Here’s a look at Mississippi State linebacker Nathaniel Watson.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Nathaniel Watson

Nathaniel Watson (LB – Mississippi State)

6’2″ – 245 lbs.

Background:

Nathaniel Watson barely played in either of his first two seasons with the Bulldogs. He then rotated in pretty heavily (and started two games) in the 2020 season, finishing with 39 tackles, including three for a loss. Became a full-time starter the following year and his output has expanded in each season since — 83-6.0-5.0 in 2021, 113-12.0-6.0 in 2022 and 137-13.0-10.0 this past season.

Positives:

Three-year SEC starter with outstanding, escalating production. Thickly-built for a modern linebacker but is also flexible. Capable of playing either the Mike or Will. Patient and disciplined when it comes to reading keys; doesn’t get caught out of position much when playing the run. Shows the willingness to step into the hole and take on blocks to handle his responsibilities in the team’s run fits. Smooth mover with adequate speed and pretty good range out toward the sideline. Has been a highly reliable tackler throughout his career with what looks like solid length and reliable technique. Fast enough to spot-drop to depth on passing downs. Was used as a spy relatively often. Sack production has been excellent for a linebacker, mostly on overload blitzes; shows some ability to time the snap and closes fast when he has a lane.

Negatives:

Would like to see him be more consistent about keeping his shoulders square. Contact balance when taking on blocks isn’t as good as expected given his size; doesn’t always look like he has a stable base under him. Works to break down in the open field but doesn’t have the best agility overall. Can look hesitant when working in zone coverage. Route recognition skills are still a work in progress. Would like to see him do a better job of using his hands to stay connected when pattern-matching. Arrest in 2023 for suspicion of driving under the influence will raise questions during the pre-draft process.

Summary:

A well-built relatively athletic linebacker with outstanding SEC production, including as a blitzer, but whose game isn’t quite as polished as anticipated. While he is patient with his reads and uses reliable technique as a wrap tackler, he struggles to keep his shoulders square and maintain his balance through contact and is still developing his feel for zone coverage. Stuffing the stat sheet in college football’s best conference will put anyone’s name on the map, but so far, looks more like a mid-to-late-round, tools-based developmental option.

Projection: Round 6

More 2024 NFL Draft Prospects

Linebackers

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