May 2, 2011, 2:11 PM EDT
Nonetheless, for the first time since 2006, the Birds stood pat in their draft position, choosing Baylor’s Danny Watkins. The 6’3″, 310 lbs. offensive lineman played tackle for the Bears, but will be expected to step in and start immediately at right guard, replacing Max Jean-Gilles and the revolving door of offensive linemen that have manned the position since the decline of Shawn Andrews.
If there is one positive takeaway from this pick, it is the success the Eagles had with the Andrews pick until injuries and/or mental illness derailed his career, another collegiate tackle. Selected with the 16th overall pick in the ’04 draft, Andy Reid traded up and discovered one of the most dominant players at his position for a brief period. Maybe he’s located another All-Pro talent.
Watkins also most definitely fills a need. The offensive line hasn’t had a solid starter in that spot since Andrews played 15 games in ’07. Assuming this kid… eh, this guy is any good, they will finally be able to field a nearly complete unit.
Watkins is versatile, and could play tackle in a pinch. Coach Reid also said he’ll learn to play center.
Still, you have to question taking any 26-year-old athlete with a first round pick. Watkins originally hails from British Columbia, Canada, and didn’t begin playing football until 2007. A firefighter in his home country, he enrolled at Butte Community College in California for their fire sciences program, where he wound up playing football. Watkins transfered to Baylor in ’09. Les Bowen wrote up a nice feature story on the strange road Philly’s newest pro athlete took to the NFL.
If he receives the typical five-year contract for most first round picks, he’ll reach free agency at the ripe old age of 32. That’s right around the age the Eagles cut and run on many veterans, though not necessarily linemen. Many offensive linemen and especially interior linemen can play into their mid-thirties or later, but it’s obvious he could never have the lengthy career of the typical first round offensive lineman.
You also have to wonder if they could not have found guard help in the second round. Watkins was only the second interior lineman off the board, compared to four tackles. Maybe the talent pool wasn’t as deep, and there was a serious dropoff to the next player, but when you factor in the point about him being a fossil, it adds to the questionable nature of the selection.
That being said, for all the knocks about his age, Watkins went pretty close to where he was graded. Some mocks had him going ahead of the Eagles’ 23rd pick, and several even correctly identified him as the Birds’ target. Shutdown Corner with the scouting report:
Pros: Having never played guard in game situations before Senior Bowl week, Watkins kicked inside nonetheless and looked as if he’d played the position for years. He has a natural low stance from which he explodes into the defender. He also has tremendous upper-body strength; even when he’s bent back at the point of attack, he can resurface and win the power battle. Has a wide lower body which he naturally uses to establish a strong base as he gets his second foot down and in position.
For his size (6-foot-4, 312 pounds), Watkins has real side-to-side agility; he’s very good at preventing defenders from getting around him with quick outside moves. Played out of a two-point stance most of the time at Baylor, but told me at the Senior Bowl that he’s just as happy to put his hand down and blow defenders out. Also practiced at the center position and had an equal affinity for that position. Selected fourth overall in the 2010 Canadian Football League draft, but chose to fulfill his obligation to Baylor and try his luck with the NFL after his senior season.
Cons: The former part-time firefighter (he went to Butte because of the school’s Fire Sciences program) will turn 27 years old in November, which may give potential NFL suitors pause as much as his lack of experience — his age could make him a one-contract guy. Doesn’t possess great second-level agility, but may be able to modify his technique over time to fit a zone-combo scheme. Watkins’ natural ability to adopt a new position will be tested by more complex NFL defenses — it wouldn’t be surprising if he struggles at first as his technique catches up to his raw ability.
Overall, I’m not a huge fan. On the offensive line, I felt tackle was the bigger need, and Wisconsin’s Gabe Carmini was still on the board. I even would have preferred a cornerback or defensive tackle, but time will tell who is left over in round two. A guy like Colorado CB Jimmy Smith could slide on character concerns, or Temple’s DT Muhammad Wilkerson from competing in a weak conference. As always, you have to wait and see how the rest of the draft plays out.
And of course, if Watkins is a special player in the mold of Andrews, it will be hard to argue with the pick then. Until then, this could be a difficult pick to embrace, almost entirely due to his age.
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