For some players, filling up the stat sheet and getting their names mentioned by the announcers on every play is the goal. Or perhaps it even comes easy to them due to their position. But for the top defensive backs, they do their jobs best when their names are rarely called, only surfacing in key moments to shut down wide receivers in the most important plays of the game. Quarterbacks fear to target them, and so they hardly have the chance to log eye-popping numbers.
Brandon Watson has quietly grinded and honed his craft at Michigan the past four years. And even while playing a healthy amount of snaps on special teams throughout his career, Watson became a fixture and foundational piece for the vaunted Michigan defense.
After contributing in a variety of ways in his first three years, Watson finally began to get regular playing time on defense in 2017, registering several solid pass break-ups and showing that he was more than comfortable in locking down his assignment. What prompted the trust in Watson’s defense may have been his ability to make a name for himself bringing down ball carriers. And given the amount of time he spent on special teams, it hardly comes as a surprise that he was willing to lower his shoulder pads every once in a while. When those experiences all culminated in his final year, Watson became an integral part of the Wolverines.
From the first game, Watson made sure that the nation was on notice of his skills. He intercepted his first pass against Notre Dame that day, returning it 19 yards in a hard-fought match that saw Michigan barely lose. After that lesson, though, Watson and the defense locked down hard, winning their next 10 games.
Although his season-high in tackles was four, Watson was a stalwart whenever the ball came his way, as Pro Football Focus graded him as a 90.0 in run defense, top 10 in the nation through eight games. And when teams did dare throw his way, he made them pay, snagging a pick against Maryland and showing off his speed by taking it 46 yards to the house. Apparently, he loved the end zone so much he decided to find it again, this time coming in Michigan’s rout over Penn State in what was to be a clash of Big Ten titans.
It might have taken a while for Watson to make it to this level, and perhaps many at home don’t recognize his name. But his game has been respected by his peers throughout his career, and if he continues to nail his assignment each and every time, it won’t be long until many more know of his prowess.
– David Chough
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Analyst