Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.
By Ray Didinger
Eagles fans waited restlessly through weeks of lockout talk, counting the days until the NFL draft. Finally, they would have something to cheer.
And when the big moment came on Thursday, the Eagles sounded the trumpets and introduced Danny Watkins from Baylor.
Lets put it this way: The fans werent exactly high-fiving at Chickies and Petes.
Drafting an offensive lineman, especially a guard, is not going to excite the fans. The name is unfamiliar and the TV highlights arent very sexy. If the guy has an unusual back story which Watkins certainly does it makes people nervous.
But put all that aside, folks. Watkins is a solid draft pick. The more you see him, the more youll like him. Hes your kind of player, a tough, blue-collar guy with a nasty streak that will bring back memories of Jon Runyan.
I was as surprised as most people. I thought the Eagles would use the first pick on defense, most likely on the defensive line. When DaQuan Bowers and Cameron Jordan were still on the board at the 23rd spot, I expected the Eagles to choose one or the other. For a team in need of a pass rush, those players looked like a gift.
But the Eagles chose Watkins and on further review, it makes sense. They need to repair the offensive line and Watkins, a 26-year-old rookie, comes ready to play. He was a left tackle at Baylor, but head coach Andy Reid plans to play him at guard. He should thrive there working under the tutelage of a superb line coach in Howard Mudd.
Watkins traveled a long road to the NFL. He grew up in Canada playing hockey and rugby. He was a fireman in British Columbia for four years before enrolling in college, which accounts for his advanced age. He did not start playing football until 2007 at Butte (Calif.) Junior College, but within two years he was a starter at Baylor. Now he is a giant piece of the Eagles future.
If you never heard of Watkins before Thursday, dont feel bad. He was under the radar most of last season. He began climbing the draft boards in January at the Senior Bowl. The coaches moved him from tackle to guard and he excelled in every drill. He didnt miss an assignment all week and he played very well in the game.
Prior to the Senior Bowl, Watkins was known only to a handful of Big 12 fanatics and draftniks, but after that week, he was on everyones short list of line prospects. Reid targeted Watkins at that point and never wavered.
For a guy who hasnt played a lot of football, Watkins has remarkably good technique. His fundamentals are sound; his footwork and balance are good. He was an all-conference tackle at Baylor but at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, he is better equipped to play guard in the pros.
He moves defenders off the ball and on pass plays he can anchor against a bull-rushing tackle. He plays with fire and keeps going to the whistle. If he sees defenders standing around a pile, he will put them in the dirt, which will please Eagles fans who like lineman that play with an edge.
One scout I spoke with compared Watkins to Logan Mankins, an unknown from Fresno State who was a first-round pick of New England five years ago. Mankins is now a Pro Bowl player and one of the best all-around guards in the NFL. Old school was the term the scout used to describe both Mankins and Watkins. That is high praise.
My only question about the Eagles strategy: Should they have traded up for Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara when he slipped in the first round (the Giants drafted him at 19)? Maybe the Eagles tried and couldnt pull it off, but thats something I would have explored. Cornerback is a huge need on this team and Amukamara is a blue-chip player.
But I have no problem with Danny Watkins. Offensive linemen might not sell penthouse suites and jerseys, but they win football games. Watkins will be that kind of player for the Eagles.
Related: Watkins brings no-nonsense approach to Birds Eagles pick offensive lineman Watkins at No. 23