Browns rookie preview: What to expect from 6th-round pick Nathaniel Watson

Nathaniel Watson, Cleveland Browns
Nathaniel Watson, Cleveland Browns / Kara Durrette/GettyImages

Linebacker Nathaniel Watson born in Maplesville, Alabama may be the Cleveland Browns answer at middle linebacker, but for now will make a great special teams addition. Watson was a 3-star recruit by ESPN, standing 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds. He played in the hard-hitting SEC for Mississippi State.

A menace to offensive coordinators and quarterbacks alike the young man was a stat-stuffing machine. Watson was awarded AP SEC Player of the Year Honors and 1st team ALL-SEC and quite deservedly was a finalist for the Butkus Award. In his six years at Mississippi State playing in a whopping fifty games Mr. Watson (Dr. Watson will catch on as a great nickname) recorded 377 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries.

Down in Mississippi State, they ran a lot of 3-3-5 Nickel, which turns linebackers and defensive backs into playmakers which in turn produces a lot of chances for tackles. It's paramount to possess the awareness, athleticism, and fundamentals to be a tackling juggernaut which Watson is. In the film I watched, I saw a man with great instincts and ball awareness.

Watson takes great angles in his pursuit of the ball and is not afraid to hit the ball carrier with aggressive tackling techniques. If you care about stats, you will notice Watson gets to the quarterback quite often, whether it's off the edge, where he is quick off the line with acceleration and speed, or bursting through the gaps utilizing his hand technique and power that will keep an offensive linemen on their toes.

10 sacks in one season in the SEC speaks volumes about his pass-rush capability as an inside linebacker. After watching hours of film his biggest weakness seems to be his below-average agility and coverage capability. Whether he can establish better pass coverage abilities in mid-zone and man coverage will be the answer if he can become a three-down linebacker in the NFL. He checks all the boxes for Jim Schwartz's base defense, but 4-2-5 Nickel and dime coverages are not on the table.

Watson's frame fits what you look for in an NFL linebacker and he happens to be my favorite pick from the Browns in the 2024 NFL Draft because he can be utilized in special teams immediately with his tackling ability and the new punting rules starting this coming season. I am excited to watch this man progress and see what he will accomplish in the NFL and whether he can make that leap from special teams ace to a two-down base 4-3 linebacker.

The AFC North is tough and whether he'll be up to the task of dealing with the likes of Lamar Jackson, Derick Henry, and the Ravens will be interesting to watch. Thankfully, Andrew Berry and the Browns organization signed Jordan Hicks and Devin Bush in free agency to mentor and thrive along star Jerimiah Owusu-Koramoah to lead this linebacking group in one of the toughest divisions in football.

More Browns coverage