Watson missed the NFC Championship last January due to appendicitis and then considered a transition to the broadcast booth after the season. It looked like that's where he'd end up after the Saints replaced him with Jared Cook in March, but Watson had a change of heart and now he's back with the team that traded up to select him in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. While he may have lost a step, the 38-year-old is a smart and savvy player who's enjoyed past success with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski's retirement leaves a big void in the New England offense, so Watson has a chance to pick up some of the slack on that front. Of course, all that is temporarily on hold, with Watson having been suspended for the first four games of the regular season. For now, his main competition for tight end snaps will come from Matt LaCosse and Lance Kendricks, and the Patriots don't necessarily need to give all of Gronkowski's vacated targets (5.5 per game in 2018) to other tight ends. Still, Watson's experience and system familiarity should give him an edge out of the gate.
Watson had his best NFL season at age 35 and was surprisingly useful last year after a full season off, so perhaps the aging curve doesn't apply to this fascinating player. A first-round pick back in 2004, he seems intent on out-surviving everyone, even cockroaches and Keith Richards. Watson is back in New Orleans, where that glorious 2015 season occurred. The Saints kicked Coby Fleener to the curb after signing Watson to a one-year, $2 million contract. We can't project much upside for someone at this stage of his career, but Watson might have another 450-550 yards left in him, with a handful of touchdowns. He's a good idea for the final round of your best-ball draft, but he's less interesting in traditional formats.
The veteran tight end came to Baltimore last season after a career year in New Orleans in 2015. He was expected to challenge for a starting spot and add a new element to the Ravens offense, but that expectation went out the door when Watson suffered a torn Achilles in the preseason. Watson's recovery is reportedly going well, so he should be ready for the start of training camp. Provided that he's healthy, Watson should have a clear path to significant playing time given that he's arguably the most complete tight end on the roster in terms of adding value both as a blocker and as a pass catcher. Dennis Pitta's offseason hip injury could even open up the No. 1 tight end gig, but Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle also figure to be in the mix for snaps. In all, it'd be unrealistic to expect the 36-year-old Watson to have a repeat of his 2015 season with Drew Brees as his quarterback, but he has the experience and skill set to still be an important piece of the Baltimore offense.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. In his 12th season, at age 34, Watson had a career year thanks to a lack of competition for targets in a Drew Brees-led offense that finished second in the league in pass attempts. His weekly numbers were somewhat inconsistent as he had two 100-yard games and five games with no more than 30 yards, including a Week 16 dud of one catch, five yards. But at 6-3, 255, he was solid in the red zone, catching 10 of 16 targets for five scores. Alas, a torn Achilles suffered in August prematurely ended his 2016 campaign.
With the trade of Jimmy Graham this offseason, Watson could be in for a bigger role this coming season, particularly with the Saints opting against selecting a tight end in the 2015 NFL Draft. A capable receiver, Watson is only a few years removed from garnering 49 catches and 501 yards with Cleveland in 2012. Still, at 34-years-old, his days as a premier pass-catching option are likely behind him, and the emergence of up-and-coming tight end Josh Hill further depresses his outlook. Given that tight ends have been heavily featured in the Saints’ offense under head coach Sean Payton – even before Graham arrived – Watson may be worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues, but his upside is likely limited.
Despite posting paltry numbers in his first season in New Orleans (19 catches for 226 yards), Watson, surprisingly, is a solid-upside option. With the tight end being heavily featured in the Saints offense under coach Sean Payton - even before that Jimmy Graham guy came around - Watson would potentially boast top-10 value at the position should Graham be sidelined for an extended period of time. In 2010 with the Browns, Watson gained 763 yards on 68 catches, and two years later, he pulled down 49 grabs for 501 yards, again in Cleveland. Age may be a factor - he turns 34-years-old at the end of this year - but Watson is the handcuff of choice for Graham owners.
Watson turned in another mediocre season for the Browns, finishing with 501 receiving yards and three touchdowns. With his contract up, he signed a three-year deal with the Saints to back up Jimmy Graham. Watson, who has good size and adequate speed, likely will be used primarily as a blocker to ease the wear and tear on Graham during the season. As long as Graham is healthy, Watson's upside is limited. But should Graham go down, Watson could emerge in the Saints’ prolific passing attack.
Watson had last season cut short by a concussion but is expected to be ready when players report for camp. He saw a drop in his numbers prior to the concussion issues, partly due to the Browns’ great difficulty in moving the ball. Watson is one of the better receiving options for Cleveland, with athleticism to make adjustments to the ball in the air and make defenders miss after the catch. Brandon Weeden should be an improvement at quarterback, though Watson will share some targets with Evan Moore. If Weeden is effective as a rookie quarterback, it’s possible Watson returns to fantasy relevance, at least in deeper leagues.
Watson was the lone bright spot among the Browns receivers last season, as Cleveland struggled with its passing game, ranking 29th in the league. Watson excels by using his quickness to create separation from defenders and get down field, and he has the body control to make adjustments on a ball after it’s thrown. Watson became fantasy relevant when he went from the Patriots to the Browns last season simply due to lack of competition. His targets improved from 41 to 102, and his team-leading 763 yards and 68 receptions were both career highs. However, with the Browns having a run-first mentality with bruising back Peyton Hillis, targets in close (only three inside the 10-yard line) were hard to come by. As a result, Watson only hit paydirt three times. While that might not change this season, Watson should still be the first option in the Cleveland passing game.
Watson jumped ship from the Patriots to sign
a multi-year deal with the Browns. While he’ll
have to learn a new offense and get used to
catching passes from Jake Delhomme instead of
Tom Brady (a “slight” downgrade), Watson
likely will emerge with more targets as the
second or third passing option, which he, of
course, was not in New England. Watson’s
primary numbers last year (29 catches for 404
yards) didn’t make him a fantasy asset, but
underlying those numbers are some skills that
could bloom in Cleveland. For one, he can get
down field. Watson averaged 9.9 yards per
target and 13.9 yards per catch last season. He
also worked well in the red zone. While he had
only eight red zone targets, those amounted to
20 percent of his overall targets, ninth best
among tight ends, and he scored five touchdowns.
The only thing hindering Watson was simply
lack of opportunity — he had only 41 targets.
That’s to be expected with the likes of Randy
Moss and Wes Welker (301 targets combined)
running routes alongside him. He won’t have
that problem in Cleveland where the top two
receivers are Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed
Massaquoi. It’s also a good sign that his
pursuers in Cleveland were Eric Mangini and
Brian Dabol, former Patriots assistants who
know what he’s capable of.
Watson will welcome back Tom Brady with open arms after a forgettable season. Playing with Matt Cassel, Watson caught only 22 passes for 209 yards, capping off a three-year decline. Despite the additions of Alex Smith, Chris Baker and David Thomas, Watson should remain the starter for the Pats. Remember that Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and now Joey Galloway call New England home, so Watson is probably the fourth option in the passing game at best.
The addition of wideout talent in 2007 limited
Watson's opportunities last season, as he dropped
from 91 targets in 2006 to just 42 in 2007. Watson
finished with just 36 catches and 389 yards,
but remained a viable tight-end option because
of New England's prolific offense. His six touchdowns in 2007 were tied for sixth in the NFL
among tight ends. The Patriots return Randy
Moss and Wes Welker, so Watson should continue
to be a secondary target in 2008 – though Tom
Brady likes to spread the touchdowns around,
and Watson was 12th in red-zone targets. Watson
underwent offseason ankle surgery, so keep an
eye on that as training camp opens.
The Patriots like to use the tight end and everyone else in the passing game. With Daniel Graham in Denver, Watson becomes the unquestioned No. 1 tight end, but New England added a lot of talent at wideout, so Watson might not get the 91 targets (10th among TEs) he saw in 2006. But he remains a favorite target for Tom Brady in the red zone (15 targets, tied for 6th at TE).
Watson has all the look of a breakout candidate, but the Patriots use Daniel Graham as much as Watson at tight end. The two will share the position again in 2006 – potentially Graham’s last with New England. Watson is also quick enough to slot out wide at times, and he can make plays down the field – he was first among tight ends with 20 or more receptions with 15.2 yards per catch. He’s an emerging weapon in the Pats’ offense, but QB Tom Brady will spread it around.
Watson, the Patriots’ 2004 first-round pick, went down with a knee injury in the season’s first game and missed the rest of the year. He saw a lot work early in preseason and during that first game, so coach Bill Belichick definitely has plans for him. At times, Watson, who has off the chart speed for a tight end, was lining up in the slot and we could see more of that this season. He could overtake Daniel Graham as a target, so keep an eye on training camp and preseason usage for clues to Watson’s fantasy value.
The Patriots raised a few eyebrows by selecting Watson with the last pick in the first round of the 2004 draft. They already have Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria, and some felt there were other needs. Nevertheless, Watson is an athlete with good speed, and he could lineup outside. And for what it’s worth, Watson scored the highest of all draft picks taking the Wonderlic assessment test (41 on a 1-50 scale).