Credit: Mississippi State Athletics
Mississippi State football’s Nathaniel Watson was named The Associated Press SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the publication announced on Monday, Dec. 4.
With Monday’s award announcement, Watson becomes the first Bulldog to be named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press.
Watson, a native of Maplesville, Ala., had a stellar final campaign at Mississippi State that saw him conclude the regular season as the SEC leader in total tackles (137) and sacks (10.0). His 137 tackles currently rank sixth in the FBS, while his 10.0 sacks are tied for ninth.
According to Pro Football Focus, Watson led all SEC linebackers with a tackle grade of 90.1 and total pressures with 35. His tackle grade of 90.1 also ranked second amongst all SEC defenders this past season.
On the year, Watson produced six double-digit tackle games while leading the team in tackles seven times. He recorded at least a half sack in eight of the last 10 games, the longest streak by a Bulldog since Montez Sweat did it in 2017. Watson also recorded seven QB hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a pair of pass breakups and an interception.
Watson received multiple honors for his play on the field this past season. He was twice named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week and a national defensive player of the week while also being named a finalist for the Butkus Award, becoming the first Bulldog ever to be named a finalist.
Following week eight of the season, Watson earned both SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors and Bednarik National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his dominant performance at Arkansas. Against the Razorbacks, Watson recorded a then season-high 14 tackles, nine assisted and five solo, to go along with two sacks. His double-digit tackle performance was also his 14th career game with double-digit tackles. He also earned his 300th career tackle in the contest.
Watson earned his second SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor and first Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week award after a career game against Southern Miss. In the contest, Watson set a career-high with 21 tackles to become the first Bulldog since 2000 to have a 20+ tackle game. Watson’s impressive tackle total was also the most tackles any SEC defender has had in a single game since 2017. He also picked up his 10th sack of the season, adding to his single-season career-high.
Watson concluded his collegiate career having played in 57 games with 379 tackles, along with 35 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. He had two career interceptions, seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. His 379 career tackles rank seventh all-time at Mississippi State, while his 21 career sacks also rank seventh all-time at MSU.