WR Xavier Watts, 6-1, 175; Omaha (Neb.) Burke.
The numbers: Watts caught 67 passes for 1,093 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games as a junior at Burke. He also recorded 58 tackles, five interceptions, 4.5 tackles for a loss and one interception returned for a touchdown. The Bulldogs (13-0) won the NSAA Class A state championship. Watts plans to enroll early in January.
The rankings: 247Sports — Three stars, No. 77 WR, No. 412 overall. Rivals — Three stars, No. 94 WR.
First impression: Watts makes big plays. His reported 40-yard dash time of 4.49 seconds appears to be fairly accurate as he routinely runs by defenders. Watts should be able to help Notre Dame’s offense stretch the field and be a threat to turn short receptions into long gains.
Strengths: When Watts hits top speed, he’s tough to slow down. Whether he’s running by cornerbacks on deep routes or accelerating after making the catch, Watts beats most of his opponents if they let him get going. Because his quarterback can’t always throw the ball as deep as Watts is running open, Watts shows a knack for reading the ball in the air and adjusting to its trajectory. He’s capable of coming back to the ball and making a difficult catch in traffic. Watts has moves when the ball is in his hands. His shiftiness makes him tough to tackle in the open field. Even as a defensive back, Watts makes plays.
Proof of prowess: (:12) Watts shows his speed as a ball carrier. He catches the short slant and makes two defenders miss as he crosses the field horizontally. By the time he’s ready to turn the corner near the sideline, he has four defenders deeper than him hoping to cut him off down the field. Watts outruns all of them and sheds the last diving attempt with more than 15 yards left before the end zone.
(3:35) Watts has his defender beat on a post route — a common occurrence. But the throw is off target and underthrown a bit, so Watts has to adjust on the run. He has to slow down to the point where the defender is able to catch up, but Watts fights through the contact to make the leaping catch. The defender drags him down just short of the goal line.
(4:10) As seen throughout his highlight film, Watts terrorizes defenses with slant routes. Defensive backs are so concerned with his ability to beat them deep, that they concede the short completions. In this instance, the defensive back reads the slant but has a lot of ground to make up because of his coverage cushion before the snap. But Watts beats the cornerback to the ball by attacking it and catching it high. He keeps his balance and recovers before sprinting to the end zone. The safety doesn’t even try to catch Watts.
Competition level: Nebraska doesn’t produce many highly touted recruits annually. That’s why it’s such a big deal that Notre Dame was able to take Watts away from the Cornhuskers. Rivals hasn’t given more than five recruits in one recruiting class a three-star rating or higher in Nebraska since 2016. The state produced four three-star recruits in 2019 and currently has four three-star recruits and one four-star recruit in the 2020 class.
Watts played against one of those three-star recruits in the 2020 class last season. Lincoln Southeast safety Isaac Gifford recorded 10 tackles in a 49-28 loss to Burke. Watts caught three passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. On one of those touchdown catches, Watts made Gifford miss in the open field for a 37-yard score (:48). Gifford missed the second game between the two teams with a knee injury.
Burke’s 2018 schedule included four of the top 24 teams in Nebraska, per MaxPreps: Millard West (No. 6), Grand Island (No. 8), Omaha North (No. 20) and Lincoln Southeast (No. 24). Burke beat both Millard West and Lincoln Southeast twice with games in the regular season and playoffs. Most of the teams on Burke’s slate last season finished in the top 75. The Bulldogs won the championship in the state’s highest classification.
Left to prove: Like most young receivers, Watts has room to grow as a route runner. He’s able to rely on his speed at the high school level where his best routes have one slight change of direction: slants and posts. He’s shown shiftiness in other areas of his game, so it should be a natural transition to excel in routes that require more precise movements. If Watts can do that, he can be a possession receiver in addition to being a big-play threat. Because Watts doesn’t play against great competition, it will be interesting to see how well his speed plays against faster defensive backs. That will give us an even better sense of his speed. If it’s legit, his play on the field could fall somewhere on the spectrum between Kevin Stepherson and Will Fuller.