As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Hands: 9 1/2”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.43
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 10’ 6”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.34
Background (College Stats)
A five-star recruit out of Fort Myers, Fla., Watkins had already broken 11 school freshman records seven games into his college career, including the all-purpose yardage mark previously held by C.J. Spiller. He finished the 2011 season with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers that helped him become only the fourth true freshman to be named an AP first-team All-American, joining Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson in that select group. In 2012, Watkins was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and simple possession of marijuana – two misdemeanors that were later expunged from his record after he completed pre-trial intervention. Nevertheless, he still served a two-game suspension to open the season as a result. With defenses keying on him following his return, Watkins took a backseat to teammate DeAndre Hopkins (an eventual first-round pick of the Houston Texans) with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three TDs. It proved to be the only significant bump in the road for Watkins, however, as he posted a 101-1,464-12 line in his final season with the Tigers, including an Orange Bowl-record 16 receptions and 227 receiving yards in a 40-35 win over Ohio State. Perhaps the most telling statistic from that game: he gained 202 yards after the catch.
NFL Player Comp(s): Andre Johnson
- Fearless hands-catcher with elite run-after-catch ability.
- Explosive playmaker in the open field that rarely gets tackled by the first defender.
- Possesses the initial burst to quickly eliminate cushion, the speed to run by a defender and the power to run him over.
- Shows exceptional field awareness and has a good sense of when to come back to help out his quarterback.
- Is able to track the ball well on over-the-shoulder catches and wins the majority of high-point battles with defenders on jump balls.
- Natural separation skills are enhanced by his ability to change his tempo and manipulate stems.
- May struggle as a route-runner initially since Clemson did not employ a pro-style offense and used him primarily as an extension of the running game (on screens and quick hitters) or as a deep threat.
- Cornerbacks rarely lined up within five yards of line of scrimmage against him, making his ability to consistently defeat physical coverage a bit of an unknown.
- Charged with a couple of drug-related misdemeanors in 2012 and served a two-game suspension as a result; minor durability concerns.
- Solid overall build, but average height for a receiver in today’s NFL.
- Ball security (two fumbles in 2013 and lost four of seven throughout his three-year career).
Although it doesn’t sound like a big deal, receivers that can actually be called “hands-catchers” are in short supply and those that can create offense with the ball in his hands the way Watkins does are truly a rare breed. Most running backs – much less receivers – don’t read their blocks or make the first defender miss as well as he does, which adds yet another set of unique skills to a prospect that is the clear top option in a draft year in which the receiver position is as loaded as it has been in recent memory. Much like many of the other high-profile receivers to enter the draft since the spread offense took over college football, Watkins may face a bit of a speed bump on his path to superstardom because the Tigers’ offense is based more on tempo and getting players in space and less on systematically breaking down a defense. However, NFL play-callers have gotten better about allowing their new players to do what they do best initially while spoon-feeding them the rest of the offense, so an instant impact cannot be ruled out. Even without factoring his potential impact as a kick and/or punt returner, Watkins will be a very good player in the NFL right away assuming his new team does everything it can to get him out into space. The first-team All-ACC selection isn’t quite the prospect that A.J. Green or Julio Jones was a few years ago, but there are parts of his game that are every bit as good – if not better – than Green or Jones when they declared for the draft (such as his run-after-catch ability).