The Eagles enter the offseason with a lot of work to do. On top of figuring out the wide receiver position, upgrading safety and finding a dynamic pass rusher, Philadelphia could stand to add a fourth cornerback that is capable of starting in place of incumbent starters, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. In fact, if the Eagles decide not to pay Williams this season, they could be looking for a starting cornerback as well.
Our first draft profile of the season is Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins. The older brother of (you guessed it) Sammy Watkins, was a four-star recruit as a defensive back at Cape Coral High School. He was Scout.com's fourth-ranked cornerback in the nation and also played quarterback. He committed to Florida and played immediately as a freshmen.
In Watkins' first season, the freshman played mostly special teams and was a gunner on the punting unit. He finished the 2010 season with eight tackles and one pass defensed. Watkins saw more action on defense in his sophomore year. Appearing in 13 games (eight starts), he finished with 34 tackles (one for loss) and five pass breakups.
As a junior, Watkins played his best football. Starting 11 out of 13 games, he was on fire in every aspect of his game. He compiled 39 tackles (one for loss), eight breakups and three interceptions with one going for a score. In his senior season, Watkins started three games as a cornerback and six games as a safety. While he did not put up special numbers, he was third on the team with 52 tackles and second with in passes defensed with seven. He also added two tackles for loss.
He showed smooth feet and hip action to quickly redirect and get his body under control to mirror the movements of the receiver. Watkins also did a nice job getting his head turned around to find the ball, elevate and break up the play. He is noticeably lean and his lack of muscle showed up on tape, but he weighed in at 194 pounds and his scrappy style of play serves him well.
At nearly 6-foot (5'11 3/8) and 194 pounds, Watkins has size at the cornerback position. A versatile athlete, Watkins did a fantastic job in coverage for the Gators and was frequently used on corner blitzes. He has smooth hips and uses his length to defend the pass. He is physical in coverage and can play off and press. He also has a solid ability to change directions.
Watkins is a very willing tackler and uses good technique when bringing down a defender. He is not much of a ball hawk but has ball skills and does a decent job tracking the ball in the air. Watkins is also noticeably aggressive when competing for jump balls.
Another strength for Watkins is his positional versatility. He has experience at a high level playing both cornerback and safety. With solid tackling ability, he could play safety in the NFL with little issue. He also has plenty of work on special teams, as he was a gunner for a majority of his college career.
While Watkins does have versatility, it is a bit frustrating that he has not been a full-time starter at any point in his college career. Despite being named a captain on Senior Day at his final game, Watkins only started 28 games in his four-year career. He never started for an entire season at Florida. His size also makes him a bit of a tweener, so it will be interesting to see his speed at the Combine.
Watkins is not a turnover machine. As noted earlier, he only had three interceptions in his career and they all came as a junior. Also, while he was able to get pressure on corner blitz, he failed to ever get a sack.
Watkins has the size at cornerback and the positional versatility that Chip Kelly and Billy Davis like. He is likely a late-Day 2 pick and could easily be there in the third round for the Eagles. He has decent arm length and a wing span that will allow him to play NFL wide receivers well with the ball in the air. His physical nature is similar to Bradley Fletcher, in that he is physical in coverage but can play off without problem.
Another positive about Watkins is that he has a lot of room to grow as a player and is already a willing and able tackler. While it would be appealing to draft a cornerback early, aiming for Watkins in the third would allow for other needs to be met in the first two rounds of the draft. It will also ease the expectations and urgency to have Watkins on the field in a large role early. With that said, Watkins does have the ability to play right away. He could serve as the successor for either Williams or Fletcher in 2015 as well.
Trust Your Own Eyes
(Note: Draft Breakdown does not have any of Watkins' tape as a senior, so here is this junior tape to look over.)