Eastern RangesEastern RangesSmall Forward

#5

Nick Watson

height: 170cm

weight: 68kg

D.O.B: 24-02-2005

Leagues: AFL U18 Championships, Coates Talent League Boys

  • Snapshot
  • Analysis
  • Summary

SNAPSHOT: “An electric small forward with innate goal sense and elite ground level craft, Nick Watson makes up for what he lacks in size with pure footballing wizardry.”

He may officially be the smallest player invited to this year’s National Draft Combine, but Nick Watson’s standing as a prospect casts as vast a shadow as anyone. The Eastern Ranges livewire has long been a talent on the radar, defying his size to play as a bottom-ager in multiple representative sides through the years. He burst onto the scene in 2021, playing up in Vic Metro’s Under 17 squad and making his Coates Talent League debut as a 16-year-old.

Naturally, he backed up in 2022 to represent Metro in the Under 18 National Championships, playing three games for the title winners, while also helping Caulfield Grammar take out the tied APS flag. Named in the AFL Academy for his draft year, Watson completed a full representative carnival and finished as the competition’s leading goal kicker with 14 majors. Such a feat saw him earn All-Australian selection, while also being named in the Coates Talent League Team of the Year having helped Eastern reach this year’s Grand Final.

As far as junior careers go, few have been more accomplished and consistently exciting as Watson’s. He’s a must-watch main event, and spectators are often sighted sprinting from one forward 50 arc to the other between quarters to get a glimpse of the mercurial goalsneak. A niggle in preseason prevented him from testing, and an ankle injury saw him don a moon boot at the National Draft Combine, but Watson produced plenty of highlights in between to confirm his status as a bonafide top 10 talent.

 

STRENGTHS:

+ Forward craft
+ Goal sense
+ Ground balls
+ Kicking
+ Footy IQ
+ X-Factor

IMPROVEMENTS:

- Four-quarter consistency
- Size

Watson's craft as a small forward is just about unmatched by his peers; proving a menace at ground level, deceptively strong on the lead, and typically creative close to goal. He's a nightmare to defend one-on-one and as such is arguably most effective as a deep lying asset in attack. He's the type of player capable of winning games off his own boot, with plenty of draft combine invitees acknowledging as much by claiming Watson's X-factor as a standout trait they'd like to pick off another prospect.

With a deep arsenal of weapons at his disposal, the 18-year-old can hurt the opposition in a variety of ways. He's so clever when reading the play as it comes his way, showcasing elite timing and reactions to get to dangerous spots at the fall of the ball, or even present as a marking option. His deceptive strength is key to beating small defenders in duels, where Watson protects the drop zone and recovers first should the ball it the deck. In those instances, he swoops on the loose pill and uses his turn of speed to manufacture enough time for a shot on goal.

His creativity also brings others into the play. Watson averaged around seven score involvements and at least one assist in both the Coates Talent League and National Championships this year, albeit with many of those scores coming off his own boot. He seems to love taking on the responsibility of splitting the big sticks, taking a mile whenever the opposition gives him an inch. His conversion rate was far from perfect this year, but Watson is usually a punishingly good finisher from a range of techniques and angles, striking the ball purely both in open play and over the mark.

While being a potential match-winner is clearly a strength, it also lends to Watson's areas of improvement. He is capable of coming to life in short spurts, like his five-goal first half against Western Australia, but can also run cold for large chunks of games and kick junk time goals - particularly when stationed exclusively inside 50. It's a Catch-22 of sorts, given that's where he does his best work. Building up his four-quarter consistency may be a key to Watson exploring his versatility, and a greater endurance base will also aid that cause.

Speaking of versatility, Watson demonstrated his potential in a variety of roles this year. He seems to enjoy rolling through the centre bounces, where he can certainly pinch-hit effectively, but was also used as a rotating wingman in the latter stages of Eastern's season. He played off half-back effectively too, both for the Ranges and AFL Academy, making great decisions with ball in hand and showcasing his elite field kick. Perhaps another way Watson can sustain his impact is through defensive application, given he only averaged around one or two tackles per game this year.

Watson has no issue with getting stuck into his opponents either, often seen engaging in friendly chats - or otherwise - and celebrating his goals in a big way. He's the type of player whose energy is infectious and will quickly win fans over, bringing the game to life in big moments. It's easy to see him doing much of the same at the elite level, and while his size will always be brought up, he has handled that query with aplomb and constantly works to prove doubters wrong. His talent is undeniable, and will be rewarded come draft time.

DRAFT RANGE: Top 10

SUMMARY:

Given the likes of Kysaiah Pickett and Caleb Daniel have excelled at the top level with only a centimetre or two on Watson, clubs will likely have no qualms in selecting the arguably more prolific junior inside the top 10. On talent alone, he’s arguably a top five prospect and may well be taken in that range with the Western Bulldogs trading up to pick four. Watson will likely also be in the hitting zone of North Melbourne, though there remains a bit to play out atop the draft order. Expect him to start with plenty of time deep forward, where he can be a match-winner, before potentially exploring his versatility and craft further up the ground.

Strengths
Footy IQ
Forward craft
Goal sense
Ground balls
Kicking
Improvements
Four-quarter consistency
Size

AFL U18 Championships

SeasonTeamKHBDMCPUPTHOCLRI50R50GLGMKHDMHOTGDC
2022Vic Metro226284151080270537.32.09.31.30.02.71.747
2023Vic Metro301949132423404321447.54.812.33.30.01.03.568
Total-52257717393312061021977.43.611.02.40.01.72.7115

Coates Talent League Boys

SeasonTeamKHBDMCPUPTHOCLRI50R50GLGMKHDMHOTGDC
2021Eastern Ranges301040800800916310.03.313.32.70.02.72.063
2022Eastern Ranges612283170017001021878.73.111.92.40.02.42.658
2023Eastern Ranges120601803500190032711913.36.720.03.90.02.11.280
Total-21192303600044005110351911.14.815.93.20.02.31.8201
Nick Watson Articles
View All