Eagles pick offensive lineman Watkins at No. 23

Eagles pick offensive lineman Watkins at No. 23
April 29, 2011, 2:15 am
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Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 10:35 p.m. Updated: April 29, 12:17 a.m.
By Reuben Frank
CSNPhilly.com

Danny Watkins figures hes spent enough time not playing football. Hes ready to play right from Day 1.

Im making a personal expectation of myself to come in and start, said Watkins, a Canadian firefighter-turned-offensive lineman. Im a highly motivated guy, and Im looking forward to coming in there and get started.

The Eagles moved to beef up their beleaguered offensive line Thursday night by drafting the 26-year-old Watkins with the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft.

Watkins, 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, spent five years working as a firefighter in his hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, before entering a California junior college, where he began playing football when he was 23. After learning the fundamentals of the game at tiny Butte College, a junior college in Oroville, Calif., he transferred to Baylor, where he blossomed into a top NFL prospect.

This is a guy that is a tough, tough guy, Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. Hes also a good football player and hes got phenomenal character on and off the field. Hes a class act. The thing that jumps out at you is that hes a relentless worker and one tough nut. And I like that.

Reid said that even though Watkins is new to the game and never played a snap of football on any level until 2007, he believes Watkins will be able to start as a rookie.

Hes talented enough to do that, Reid said. This guy physically is ready to go.

At what spot? Right guard is the obvious position, but Reid said nothing is settled yet. Watkins played tackle in college but will start out here as a guard.

I just wanted to make sure we got the best football player to bring in here, and we did, Reid said. Well find a spot for him. Thats the easy part.

Reid left open the possibility that Watkins could work in at left guard, with Todd Herremans moving to right tackle. Presumably, Mike McGlynn could get a shot at right guard, assuming Jamaal Jackson is healthy after two serious injuries.

I have a lot of flexibility there, Reid said. Right now, Im looking at guard, but he can really play any position you need him to play. Hes that kind of an athlete.

Weve got a group of guys who played tackle in college and they can all move around. Todds played both sides, Dannys played both sides, Todds played tackle, left and right, so weve got some flexibility there, which is a neat thing.

Reid said he and general manager Howie Roseman have had Watkins targeted as their top prospect for several months and nothing happened to change their mind.

An NFL front office source said the Eagles picked Watkins at 23 instead of trying to trade down and get him early in the second round because they had reason to believe the Seahawks at 25, the Patriots at 28, the Bears at 29, the Steelers at 31 and the Packers at 32 were all seriously considering landing Watkins with their late first-round picks.

Howie had this guy right from the get-go at the top, Reid said. This was a guy that he really wanted and liked, and so when I looked at him, I said, This guy is as fine a football player as you have in the offensive line in this draft and then Howard (Mudd, offensive line coach) came back and said the same thing, that this guy was a top-quality player.

The guys at the Senior Bowl saw that. You saw this guy go out and dominate in the one-on-ones, you saw him dominate in the game, and it was the first time he played guard. He lit it up. But thats what hes been doing all year. Thats how he plays.

This is one of those guys that you cant help but like when you look at him. He knows how to play the game.

The biggest knock on Watkins is his age, but Reid said the Eagles have no concerns about Watkins being four years older than most players in the draft.

I know theres been a lot of things said about Dannys age, but we felt Danny was as good a football player as there was in the draft, Reid said. His body hasnt gone through that beating up process when youre playing football, so his clock started late to this sport. ...

I know its not a glamor position, but its a position that is very crucial in this sport, and we wanted to make sure we maintained a strong offensive line.

We lost a few veteran offensive linemen over he last couple years, and we wanted to make sure we continued to build that line to be the strongest in the National Football League, and this is a step forward.

The Eagles allowed 49 sacks last year and three more in the wild-card loss to the Packers. They have a new offensive line coach in Mudd and now a first-round pick to go with him.

Protecting Michael Vick is this teams biggest priority, and Reid believes this move makes the Eagles better equipped to do that.

Hell bring a toughness that the city of Philadelphia thrives on, Reid said. A blue-collar attitude to that offensive line. ... When he stepped on the football field, he took to the game and has just been so productive. What you see is a heck of a player both in the run game and the pass game.

Watkins said he became a football player almost accidentally at Butte, which he initially enrolled in to study firefighting.

I went to junior college for fire science, and the football coach asked me to come out and play football, Watkins said from Radio City Music Hall Thursday evening. I just said, What the heck, and it took off from there.

Watkins said he had no idea the Eagles were going to draft him.

Very surprised, Watkins said. This is unreal.

This is only the third time since 2003 the Eagles have used their original draft pick in the first round. They traded up in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 and traded out of the first round in 2007 and 2008.

The only other offensive lineman Reid has taken in the first round is Shawn Andrews at No. 16 in 2004. The Eagles last three first-round offensive linemen Jermane Mayberry in 1996, Tra Thomas in 1998 and Andrews in 2004 have all been picked to at least one Pro Bowl team.

Although the questions about his advanced age will linger, Watkins said it shouldnt be an issue.

My body feels great, I feel good, Watkins said. Being 26 years old, Im experienced. Ive lived the life of a working man, had a 40-hour-a-week job, and Im just really excited to get this going.

I dont see it as an issue by any means. I just took a different path to get here. Im not collecting my 401K by any means. My bodys fresh.

Reid said he would be concerned about Watkins age if he had been playing all these years. But he hasnt.

Hes not beat up like you see a lot of offensive and defensive linemen, Reid said. Youre getting a fresher 26-, 27-year-old.

Reid said the Eagles were never close Thursday to trading up, even as prized cornerback Prince Amukamara slid down toward where the Eagles were picking. Amukamara wound up going to the Giants at No. 19.

We really werent, he said. There was nothing. We had this guy targeted, we were hoping he was there. If there was (somebody we liked), we would have gone up and snagged him, but we really liked him.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

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