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New England Patriots Top 30 Visit: Mississippi State LB Nathaniel Watson



Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary (13) is sacked by Mississippi State linebacker Nathaniel Watson (14) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Kentucky won 24-3. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Every NFL franchise is allowed to invite up to 30 draft prospects to visit their facilities and meet with the members of the organization before the NFL Draft. These selections range from first-round targets to players who might be available as undrafted free agents. As news about the New England Patriots Top 30 visits surface, Patriots Football Now will highlight each of the visitors. Today’s feature is Mississippi State linebacker Nathaniel Watson.

College Career

Nathaniel Watson ranked as a three-star prospect from Maplesville High School in Maplesville, Ala. His composite ranks (via 247 Sports) placed him as the No. 664 prospect in the country, No. 52 athlete, and No. 19 player from Alabama in the Class of 2018. Despite coming from a town of only 637 people in the most recent census report, Watson helped Maplesville win three Class 1A state championships during his high school career. He starred on both sides of the ball, making all-state as a receiver in addition to his work on defense.

Watson committed to Mississippi State. He played six seasons for the Bulldogs, including a redshirt season in 2018 in which he played only two games. By 2020 he was a regular part of the rotation and by 2022 he was a star.

Nathaniel Watson appeared in 50 games for Mississippi State. He amassed 377 career totals (137 solo) including 35 tackles for loss. He registered 21.0 career sacks. Watson finished second in the SEC in tackles in 2022 (113). He led the conference in 2023 with 137, while tying for the league lead with 10.0 sacks.

He earned second-team All-SEC in 2022 and first-team All-SEC in 2023. The Associated Press voted Nathan Watson the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Pro Football Focus graded Watson’s 2023 performance as a solid 72.4. His tackling grade of 90.0 was exceptional. Watson’s defensive grade from PFF improved every season from 2019 to 2023.

NFL Draft

Nathaniel Watson received an invitation to the Senior Bowl following his stellar senior season. He was voted the top linebacker on the American Team after the week of practice. He went on to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine the following month.

Watson measured in at 6-foot-2 and weighed 233 pounds. He ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and placed near the bottom of his group in both the vertical and broad jumps. His lack of elite athleticism prevents him from being ranked higher in pre-draft rankings, but his production on the field is undeniable. Coverage was a weakness in his game, even at the college level.

Nathaniel Watson was selected in the seventh round (No. 207 overall) in the recent seven-round NFL Mock Draft on Patriots Football Now. He projects as a Day 3 selection.

“I’m a hard-working man,” says Watson. “I keep my head down. I look to take advantage of all the opportunities that are given to me, so I just keep working.”

New England Patriots coach Jerod Mayo has said that “hard work works” and a hard-working linebacker who excelled in the SEC could describe Mayo himself, or inside linebackers coach Dont’a Hightower. Nathaniel Watson might not have the athleticism of those two Patriots stars turned coaches, but his work ethic and football IQ should land him on an NFL roster in the fall, perhaps in New England.