By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — Chip Kelly likes versatility and the Eagles may have gotten just that in Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins, the older brother of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, with the first pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Watkins has experience at cornerback (inside and outside) and can play safety. He lined up on various areas of the field in the Gators’ secondary. He is considered to have light feet and believed to do an excellent job in staying with wide receivers.
Kelly said one of the things that attracted the Eagles to Watkins was the adaptability to play safety, corner and nickel. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis was at Watkins’ pro day. The Eagles feel Watkins has the speed to play cornerback—and the talent and intelligence to be a safety.
“There is evidence of him playing safety and doing it at a really high level,” Kelly said. “He could be the quarterback of the defense, based on his football intelligence. That versatility, football character, football intelligence part of it, the character part of it, we thought it was a really good value [pick], especially today. He was one of those guys that we were really excited about last night. If we didn’t get a great offer, we were going to stay there and take Jaylen.”
Watkins ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, slightly faster than his brother Sammy. His strengths are considered his zone and press play. At 6-foot, he’s been able to do both. At Florida, he’s shown an ability to recognize the screen. When dropping back, his height negates passes over the top. Kelly said he likes Jaylen Watkins’ high football IQ, his leadership and character,
Watkins may have slipped to the fourth round due to an ankle injury suffered practicing for the Senior Bowl on Wednesday, January 22.
“My pro day wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, because I thought I’d be 100-percent, but I wasn’t as healthy as I thought I was,” Watkins said. “I was able to work out for some teams. It definitely slowed me down during the [NFL] Combine. I truly believe that if I was fully healthy, I know I would have run a faster 40 and attracted more teams. As far as being drafted, I don’t know where I would have been, but everything happens for a reason.”
Kelly said the Eagles like their safeties to cover and quarterback the defense. That’s where he sees Watkins fitting in—along with special teams play.
“There are college corners out there that are potential NFL safeties, and Jairus Byrd is a great example,” said Kelly, who coached Byrd at Oregon. “Jairus played corner for us at Oregon and never played safety and he’s obviously had a very successful career here [at the NFL level]. He’s healthy and we worked him out on pro day and he has a lot of special team’s experience.
“Our safeties have to make a lot of decisions, and our coverages are based upon how we want to play versus the bunch, how we want to play versus single-wide, how we want to play versus trips. They have to make decisions on the run. You need to have a guy that’s pretty decisive that studies it and that’s one thing about Jaylen we’re really, really impressed with.”