Maplesville to NFL: Browns select Watson in NFL Draft

Published 12:25 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Maplesville High School and Mississippi State University alumnus Nathaniel “Bookie” Watson was around family, friends and former teammates when he got a call from a number with a 216 area code on April 27.

The 2023 AP Southeastern Conference Player of the Year answered, and Cleveland Browns General Manager Andrew Berry was on the other end along with Head Coach Kevin Stefanski.

“We are going to take you off the board and make you a Brown,” Berry told Watson before handing the phone to Stefanski.

“Congratulations, man. You ready to run and hit?”

“Most definitely, you know that is what I love to do,” Watson said to his new head coach.

“I know you do. Hey, we are excited to get you … You are a Cleveland Brown,” Stefanski said.

Watson was selected with the No. 206 overall pick in the sixth round of the 2024 NFL Draft by the Browns. Cleveland was one of the teams Watson said he was having communications with throughout his pre-draft process, and he made an impact on them enough to use a draft pick on him to make it four Maplesville Red Devil football players to make it to the NFL.

“I think with him, just his toughness and intelligence. He has been a very productive player at Mississippi State throughout his career. He is one of the smarter guys they had on their defense, and a lot was required out of him,” Matt Donahoe, Cleveland Browns area scout, said in an interview on April 27 following the draft. “[The] reviews on him were good the last couple years going in there. So, I think when you get a guy that is tough, physical, loves the game of football, I think that is a great guy to add to the program here.”

Donahoe added that with his length, strength and being able to run well for a player his size, Watson can transition well to special teams in the NFL. The linebacker played special teams at Mississippi State, and with the new kickoff rules coming into the NFL this season, they may work out better for a player like Watson to be able to make some plays.

The Browns front office and Donahoe were surprised Watson lasted till the No. 206 pick, but were thankful and comfortable using their pick to select him at the point in the draft. Watson’s versatility at Mississippi State was another thing that stood out to the Browns during their evaluations.

“He was very versatile in their defense, so I think that is another thing to why it is a good value to bring in a guy like that just because, like I said, he was probably, if not one or if not the, one of the smartest guys on their defense,” Donahoe said in the interview. “Like I said, (Mississippi State) required a lot. He had to learn one of their linebacker positions in the parking lot before one of their games because one of their other kids was, I think, under the weather – I forget the exact details, but they lost one of their other linebackers. I think that goes a long way at the next level, being able to play multiple spots and being versatile in that regard.”

Watson selected No. 40 to wear during his first NFL season, and Browns minicamp starts May 10. Those will be Watson’s first reps in the NFL, followed by preparations throughout the summer to training camp and up to the start of the 2024 NFL season.