Jaylen Watson made a game-changing play for the Chiefs Thursday night. Was it lightning in a bottle, or is Jaylen Watson the real deal?
The Chiefs pulled off a double-digit comeback on Thursday night versus the Chargers in order to take hold of the division in a crucial matchup. The hero of that game wasn’t Mahomes or any offensive player for that matter. It was seventh-round rookie Jaylen Watson who took a Justin Herbert interception 99 yards for a touchdown. When it seemed the Chargers would take a 7-point lead those points instead went to the Chiefs.
It was a surprise to many that Jaylen Watson was even in the game, let alone making the biggest play. The Chiefs drafted Trent McDuffie in the first round, and Joshua Williams in the fourth. A hamstring injury sent McDuffie to IR, and it seems the Chiefs coaching staff doesn’t have complete faith in Williams just yet. However, they did have confidence in their seventh-round selection Jaylen Watson. So, outside of the big play, how did Watson perform on Thursday?
The Chiefs Can Trust Watson In Man Coverage
Let’s start with the good. Jaylen Watson looked very good in man/press-man coverage. In all of his man-to-man snaps, I only counted two times he got outright beat by his man. Both of these snaps were against Deandre Carter, a smaller/quicker receiver who has mostly played special teams throughout his career but has shown to be a reliable weapon for Herbert. Carter was wide open on both of these snaps and would have had 10+ yards on both plays if he was thrown to. Instead, on both of these snaps Herbert opted to throw to Mike Williams who looked like Calvin Johnson against the Chiefs.
While it is a bit concerning that Watson let his man get so open on these plays, for the rest of the game he was sound in man coverage. As mentioned, Mike Williams was making contested catches against everyone including Watson, but I believe Watson actually did the best job matching up against Williams as shown in this clip here.
So, while there is still room for improvement, Jaylen Watson has shown that he can be trusted in man coverage going forward. Ideally, as he is a bigger-bodied player he will match up with bigger receivers. Then Sneed and Fenton can deal with the quicker/more agile players. Watson isn’t necessarily slow, he ran a 4.51 at the combine, but the losses versus Deandre Carter show that Watson still has areas he needs to improve upon.
The Chiefs Need Watson To Be More Active In Zone Defense
When it came to zone defense, Watson struggled. In all fairness, Watson stuck to his zones and didn’t give up a big play, but in doing so he allowed Herbert to pick apart the defense. While it is true in zone defense you are tasked with protecting a certain part of the field, but as a corner when a player enters your zone you should cover that player even if it carries you slightly outside your zone. Trust that your safeties will cover for you if you get carried too far outside your zone, or hope the defensive line gets to the quarterback first.
The zone defense was not great across the board on Sunday, and there was a recurring theme. The defense was playing it safe not wanting Herbert to go deep on them, but in turn, Herbert just threw short passes in between or at the edges of the zones, and let his playmakers take over from there, or he just chucked it up to Mike Williams and let him do his thing.
Watson, similar to the rest of the defense was backing too deep into his zone and not reading the QB/receivers. I don’t have the exact snap count of zone/man splits, but it definitely appeared as though the Chiefs played more zone than man. Which is uncharacteristic of Spagnuolo. However, this could be explained in that Spags was concerned about his young group matching up against the Chargers’ receiving group.
Can Watson Become A Star For The Chiefs?
So, what is the potential upside of Jaylen Watson? I believe Watson does have a high upside, he has the size, the speed, and the drive to become great. However, on this Chiefs roster, I think he will end up as CB3. Watson can be a piece that helps us win another Super Bowl, but once McDuffie is healthy I think he will take his starting role back from Watson. Rashad Fenton has struggled more than anyone this season and is in the final year of his rookie contract. Once McDuffie is healthy, maybe the Chiefs decide to move Fenton to the bench in favor of Watson.
While that is probably unlikely if Fenton continues to struggle it is always a possibility. I wouldn’t mind a lineup of Sneed, McDuffie, and Watson. All while fourth-round rookie Joshua Williams continues to develop. Overall, I would like to see Spagnuolo run more man-to-man defense and see what these guys can do.
To read about five takeaways from the Chargers game click here.