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PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—It was a mystery, really there were no clues or indications where the Eagles would go with their first pick, the 23rd overall selection in the NFL Draft Thursday night.
Some prognosticators thought the Eagles would choose a defensive lineman. Others thought one of the more name offensive linemen, if available. There were needs at defensive back.
Then the Eagles went out and drafted, well, a mystery … a 26-year-old Canadian firefighter, Baylor’s Danny Watkins? Yes, you heard that correctly. Watkins has a terrific backstory. He came into football late, he has good size, listed at 6-4, 310 pounds. He played left tackle for Baylor, though he’s being projected to play guard for the Eagles.
With Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner, still on the board, along with defensive tackles Cam Heyward and Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson, the Eagles opted for Watkins. To say the selection was a shocker would be an understatement. It even came as a surprise to Watkins, the first Canadian selected in the first round of the NFL draft since the Los Angeles Rams took Mike Schad with the 23rd overall pick in 1986.
“I’m very surprised, this is unreal,” Watkins said. “I met with the Eagles at the [NFL Combine] and at the Senior Bowl a little bit, but I really didn’t know and it was so hard to tell whether or not the Eagles were interested, I spoke to so many different teams. I had no idea.”
Asked if his age would be a factor, Watkins said not really, he said “my body feel fresh, and I am 26 years old, and I lived a good life and I’m a working man. I met a lot of the guys who were drafted and some are 19, 20 and this is their first job. I worked a 40-hour-a-week job.”
When the Eagles called, Watkins originally thought it was a wrong number. Then a representative of the Eagles asked for Watkins and told him the good news.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said Watkins was their target guy all along at 23. Reid said he could see Watkins at either guard position and that he gives the Eagles the flexibility of moving him around where needed.
“This guy brings a toughness and I know it’s something Philadelphia is going to love,” Reid said. “His clock started a little later with the sport, but he took to the game and he’s been so productive. What you’ll see is a heck of a football player. We were hoping [Watkins] would be there. We had our eye on him right from the beginning. We have the flexibility of with all these guys. Todd [Herremans] has played both guard spots. He can play at both guard positions and right now I’m looking at him at guard. If we stayed at 23, we had him targeted.”
And it looks like targeted at right guard, taking over for Nick Cole.
Reid said Watkins is older than your typical first-round choice, but he hasn’t been beaten up and worn down. “This is a guy you can’t help but like,” Reid stressed.
Entering the draft, it appeared as if a larger concern was addressing the holes on defense. There were many. The Eagles had the worst red-zone defense in the NFL. They were so feeble they only stopped opponents from scoring once in 43 red-zone penetrations during the regular season (not including the three by the Green Bay Packers in the Eagles’ wild-card 21-16 playoff loss). Opposing teams scored 33 touchdowns and nine field goals on the 42 times they converted inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line. That 76.7 percent red zone inefficiency put the Eagles at the bottom of the NFL, no other NFC team was even within 10 percentage points.
So the prevailing thought was the Eagles were looking at a defensive lineman. Someone that could add some bulk to an undersized defense that got pushed around inside the 20-yard line. Nine defensive linemen went in the first 21 picks. The Eagles had selected a defensive lineman with their first pick in four of their previous six drafts (Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws and last year Brandon Graham). It hasn’t exactly panned out for them.
Bunkley has underachieved, to go 14th overall in the 2008 draft, never making a Pro Bowl, Patterson has been serviceable, Laws has been injury prone, with the exception of last year, when he had his most productive season, and the Eagles still don’t know what they have in Graham, who had 13 tackles and three sacks in 13 games, before tearing the ACL in his right knee against Dallas.
Of the Eagles’ 11 picks last year, second-round pick Nate Allen was the most productive, and the Eagles did get some late-season help from a pair of seventh-rounders, safety Kurt Coleman and linebacker Jamar Chaney.
The Birds thought they could make a move with Kevin Kolb. But because of the nebulous status of the lockout/work stoppage, nothing happened.
Maybe it explains why quarterbacks were at a premium. Four quarterbacks went in the first 12 picks, including some dubious choices like Washington’s Jake Locker, selected eighth overall by Tennessee, and Florida State’s Christian Ponder, taken 12th overall by Minnesota.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito