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2019 NFL Draft: Texas RB Tre Watson scouting report

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Tre Watson did plenty of things well for the Longhorns, but the lack of a truly elite skill may make for a long road as he pursues a professional career.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Texas Jamie Harms-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 2017 campaign in which the Texas Longhorns running back room often produced next to nothing, Tom Herman and his staff turned their attention towards the graduate transfer market in search of some immediate help, and potentially, a starting-caliber ball carrier. On May 6, Texas received an answer to both ends in the form of Tre Watson, a grad transfer out of Cal who was set to enjoy a fifth and final season after missing all but a few quarters of the 2017 slate with an ACL injury.

In hindsight, Watson largely satisfied the role the Longhorns were looking for.

At a position that generally lacked experience, production, and leadership, which was to be expected in a room that featured two true sophomores in Daniel Young and Toneil Carter, an incoming true freshman in Keaontay Ingram, and a junior in Kyle Porter who’d spent much of his time at Texas as a reserve, Watson provided all of the above.

“Oh, yeah, Tre is a fantastic leader,” Herman said last season. “He’s gregarious, really, really bright kid, always got a smile on his face, but extremely competitive, too.”

Of course, by the time Watson first suited up as a Longhorn on Sept. 1, the aforementioned intangibles allowed him to do so as Texas’ first-team running back; a role Watson maintained for all but two games last season. Throughout that stretch, Watson’s statistical contributions were along the lines of what many expected when he sided with Texas over LSU, as he led the Longhorns’ backfield with 185 carries for 786 yards and three touchdowns.

The efforts weren’t otherworldly, by any means, but they were enough to help steady the Texas ground game while Watson essentially split ball-carrying duties with Ingram, who collected 708 yards and three touchdowns on 142 attempts during his debut campaign.

To that end, as far as Watson’s NFL aspirations are concerned, the fact that the fifth-year senior largely couldn’t separate himself from a true freshman in the rotation could serve as a cause for concern. Watson was never expected to become a true feature back upon his arrival at Texas — he never emerged into such a substantial role at Cal, either — but save for Ingram battling various minor injuries, the front end of the 2018 season was chock-full of questions as to whether or not Ingram should unseat Watson as the team’s top option.

Nevertheless, Watson maintained his role as the first-team running back and began to find his stride a bit down the stretch, rushing for 80 yards against West Virginia, a season-high 93 yards against Iowa State, 79 yards against Kansas, and 91 yards against Georgia, averaging 5.72 yards per carry throughout those four contests. When Watson was reliable, rushing for at least 70 yards as he did during the aforementioned outings, Texas was 5-1. On the other eight instances, though, Texas finished just 5-3, dropping three games to Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma in which Watson totaled just 97 yards on 30 attempts.

As the numbers reveal, both collectively and on a game-by-game basis, Watson wasn’t exactly the true rushing threat Texas has sought since D’Onta Foreman’s departure in 2016, but it’s what he did elsewhere that made him especially valuable in Austin, which, in turn, could make him an intriguing addition for an NFL franchise.

For example, despite his 5’11, 195-pound stature, Watson was exceptional in pass protection, whereas Texas’ younger running backs struggled in that department. Elsewhere, Watson’s ball security provided a bit of a breath of fresh air for a Texas staff that saw younger options such as Toneil Carter fumble twice in 53 attempts as a true freshman and then saw those same struggles continue on into the spring. Though Watson did fumble twice at Texas, losing one, he coughed the ball up just three times throughout his 459 career carries, an average of just one fumble for every 153 attempts.

Though the raw numbers aren’t overwhelming overall, Watson proved to be a competent receiving threat out of the backfield, as well, hauling in 22 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns at Texas to bring his collegiate career total to 59 receptions for 522 yards and eight scores.

As far as his actual rushing repertoire is concerned, Watson flashes burst around the line of scrimmage and runs with power and purpose, demonstrating a willingness to play behind his pads and drive his legs for additional yardage. To complement that assertiveness, Watson presents his fair share of shiftiness and cut-and-go ability, which is most often evident when his quick feet allow him to bounce to the outside.

The issue in regards to Watson’s professional upside, however, is that while he does several things well, which proved to be valuable for a high-level Power 5 program, he doesn’t necessarily thrive in one particular area, which could prove problematic as he tries to carve out a niche role at the next level.

Watson can run with power and purpose, but one wouldn’t consider him to be a power back. Watson can flash shiftiness and slipperiness, but he doesn’t boast the kind of speed that allows numerous NFL running backs to find reps, whether as a reserve or on special teams. For example, per WalterFootball.com, Watson officially recorded a 4.76 40-yard dash during Texas’ Pro Day, which aligns with various hand-timed records.

All things considered, Watson’s skill set allowed him to prove plenty serviceable at the Power 5 level. Throughout his final two healthy seasons at Cal and Texas in 2016 and 2018, respectively, Watson totaled 1,495 yards and seven touchdowns on 328 attempts and added another 384 yards and seven scores on 43 receptions.

But serviceable doesn’t exactly require a draft pick to acquire, so though he’s quite likely on various NFL radars, Watson will almost certainly have to wait until undrafted free agency to entertain any NFL options, where he’ll likely begin from square one and prove his worth on a practice squad.