By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When it was falling apart, with injuries and youth besieging an uncharacteristically down year at Florida, the Gators turned to Jaylen Watkins to hold together what remnants were left of the season.
The Eagles’ fourth-round draft pick (101st overall), who’s being projected to be a cornerback as he steadily progresses and learns the safety position, stepped up and was named team captain by Gators’ coach Will Muschamp midway through the season.
“We lost a lot of key guys, character guys and team captains and things started to mentally [deteriorate], because we had freshmen playing, at one point walk-ons playing,” Watkins said. “At the time, things were all discombobulated and it had nothing to do with any one person or coach. It brought the fight out in everybody. Going into Florida State, I don’t think there is one person who thought we were going to lose that game.”
Watkins, as is well known by now, is the half-brother of former Clemson receiving star, Sammy Watkins, taken by the Buffalo Bills with the fourth overall draft pick. The two grew up on the same street and spent a lot of time together outside of football. The two bounced back words of encouragement to one another through social media.
But aside from his brother’s considerable shadow, Jaylen Watkins will be faced with a more looming challenge ahead and that’s playing safety in the NFL.
Chip Kelly wants his players to be versatile. Watkins played some safety for the Gators.
“I was recruited to play [cornerback] at Florida, and initially, that’s what I played the first three years [at Florida],” Jaylen Watkins said. “Safety was something that came along and it’s something that I’m growing at naturally. It was challenging, because it was a new position for me, but it came so quick that within a few weeks, I was able to produce, like the rest of our safeties. The only thing I played in college was press coverage under coach Muschamp.”
“This has been challenging, learning a whole new defense. I was a starter for three years in last defense, so every year, you just go to work. I have to take a different mental approach, learning the play and the speed outside of the field, so everything is a little different.”
Watkins said the same coverage schemes are the same. He’s getting up to speed on the terminology. He said the pressure is there and he’s healthy. He said he could probably run a 4.3-second 40 right now.
Watkins said his usefulness at both safety and corner are what may have attracted the Eagles to him.
“One of the things that led us to this pick is his versatility, because he has played both [safety and cornerback],” Kelly said about Watkins. “He has extremely high football intelligence. Billy Davis was at his pro day and spent a lot of time with him there. He’s played safety, he’s played corner, he’s played nickel. I think he obviously has the speed to play corner. But the fact that sometimes when you’re drafting these guys you try to project that maybe they can be this, but there is obviously evidence of him playing safety and doing it at a very high level.”