Jaylen Watson’s improbable story: From working at Wendy’s to game-winning pick-six
Seventh-round rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson’s 99-yard pick-six of Justin Herbert with 10:43 left in the fourth quarter of the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Chargers game was improbable for several reasons. Watson was only on the field because first-round rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie suffered a hamstring injury against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, and Watson was his replacement.
THE ROOK WITH A 99-YARD PICK SIX‼️ @jaylenwatson12 pic.twitter.com/fNZkRQL1wU
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 16, 2022
To say that Watson was an NFL afterthought would be putting it lightly. the former all-region receiver and cornerback at Lucy C. Laney High School in Augusta, Georgia started his path after that at Ventura College in California. He became a star at that junior college. and committed to USC in 2019 among a dozen Power Five college offers. But he had to de-commit five months after due to academics issues. From there, he had to move back to Georgia, and worked in a Wendy’s restaurant with his mother.
“It was really hard because I’d been playing football since I was five and just have a tremendous love for the game,” he told the Augusta Chronicle in April. “Football is a safe haven. I didn’t have the best in home life, so when I’m going through family issues or whatever I was going through, when I got on the field, it was my safe haven.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is tough,’ Not actually being able to play football for the first time in 13, 14 years, coming back to Augusta with my (associates) degree and still can’t get a job, it was like real life actually hit me.”
Nearly losing his football dreams forced Watson to turn things around, and about a year after he left USC, he had things straight enough to commit to Washington State. He was a straight-A student and earned the associates degree that allowed him to enter his new school.
An All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention as a redshirt junior. Watson finished his two-year career with the Cougars in 2021, having allowed 35 catches on 65 targets for 378 yards, 79 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 68.6.
Despite that, and turning heads at the scouting combine and at his pro day, Watson had to wait until the 22nd pick in the seventh and final round of the draft to hear his name called.
In his first NFL preseason, Watson transcended his draft status, allowing three catches on 10 targets for 24 yards, 15 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, no interceptions, two pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 39.6. He did allow a touchdown against the Cardinals, but he also had a big pass breakup against A.J. Green on a deep boundary throw.
“(I) was really happy with how Jaylen went in there and did what he did,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “They challenged him right away, which is what real good teams do. And he made that play down the sideline, which was good to see.”
After his pick-six that made all the difference in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win, Watson pointed to all he had been through as the motivation for every play he plays now — especially the biggest ones.
“I’m just a very resilient person. I’ve always been working for what I had. I was never given anything, and I think that’s what gave me an edge. On the football field, as well. So, I just try to carry that edge, show some hunger, show some anger on the football field, and let it out on the opponents.”