DeVonta Smith was drafted 10th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Jalen Reagor was drafted 21st overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Travis Fulgham had a 4-game stretch in 2020 where he put up 27 receptions for 378 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. However, through training camp and one preseason game so far the standout amongst the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps isn’t any of them. Rather, it’s the team’s 200th overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft that’s turning heads and stealing headlines: Quez Watkins.
Reporters in attendance have been raving about Quez Watkins almost non-stop since the start of training camp. He’s been performing consistently at such a high level that it’s almost impossible not to be impressed.
Eagles fans were finally able to witness his playmaking ability themselves at the team’s open practice on August 8th.
Pretty cool angle of Hurts’ 55 yard TD to Quez Watkins on a rollout.
— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) August 9, 2021
And again, during the team’s first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12th.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 13, 2021
When I evaluated Quez Watkins before the 2020 NFL Draft, I saw a prospect who flashed some high-end traits as a wide receiver. His speed and explosiveness were great. I liked his ability as both a downfield threat on vertical routes and a YAC weapon on short routes near the line of scrimmage. However, Watkins didn’t show much outside of his physical abilities. He was a very raw prospect that still needed to mature as a player and learn the nuances of the position. His route running needed polishing. He had to learn how to properly position his body to win against leverage. He also needed better play strength against physical corners who jammed him at the line of scrimmage and knew how to be physical at the catch point.
After the Eagles drafted both Watkins and John Hightower on the 3rd day of the draft, many started comparing the two. Both were similar types of receivers; speed guys who relied on making explosive plays downfield but had questions about their play strength. I saw both as good selections and for different reasons.
Hightower was the safer prospect; more pro-ready. That showed last season as Hightower was awarded playing time over Watkins. Former Eagle, Jason Avant, was with the coaching staff last year and even claimed that Hightower was the best route runner on the team.
Watkins, to me, was always the rawer prospect but had the higher ceiling. I liked his talent more than I did Hightower’s, but I had more questions marks about whether he’d be able to develop that talent at the pro level.
Quez Watkins showed flashes of serious talent during his career at Southern Miss. His physical ability was never the concern, but rather if he could mature and learn/hone the nuances of the WR position. It’s still early, but hopefully he’s starting to put it all together. pic.twitter.com/OrmFn8Ja9V
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) August 13, 2021
There was one problem that was out of Watkins’ control last year, though: coaching. The Eagles’ history of developing young wide receivers hasn’t been good for a very long time, and we all know that. I can go on and on about how Doug Pederson and his staff were unable to put the young receivers in the right position to succeed on the field. In addition, when the team decided to give playing time to Alshon Jeffery upon his return over Travis Fulgham, I knew something was seriously wrong with their approach. I even wrote an article early in the season about how the team needs to focus on playing their young players, but that never turned out to be the case last year.
Enter: Nick Sirianni. We still don’t know how good of a coach he will be, but he’s been saying a lot of the right things. If he practices what he preaches and his system focuses on getting the ball to the receivers quickly and giving them YAC opportunities, that’s going to bode very well for Watkins and the rest of this dynamic receiver group. Also, consider the fact that much of Sirianni’s background consists of teaching and coaching the wide receiver position. This coaching staff is far better equipped to help Watkins develop than the previous regime was.
The big questions now are whether Watkins should be considered for a starting job heading into the regular season and if he is a legitimate starting NFL talent at wide receiver. That’s where it does get interesting and tricky.
It’s safe to assume that, once he’s healthy, DeVonta Smith will establish himself as WR1 soon after. That’s not to say that the spot will just be handed to him right out the gate because I don’t believe that one bit. He’s going to have to earn his reps just like everyone else. The reason I say he’ll be the Eagles’ top guy is that I simply believe he’s that good.
Behind Smith is where it’s anyone’s guess.
Reagor, being the team’s other 1st round wide receiver, would ideally be the next guy up, but he didn’t have a strong start to camp. He’s been improving ever since he was scolded by the coaches at practice, so that’s a good sign. So far, though, he hasn’t done enough to solidify that WR2 designation.
Having Fulgham as another starter makes a lot of sense too. We haven’t heard a ton about him one way or another, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s come out and said that his decline last season was in large part due to Jeffery’s return, which I do believe for the most part. Now that Jeffery is no longer here, the X-receiver spot is once again Fulgham’s for the taking.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that Watkins has outplayed every receiver so far. One could even argue that he’s outplayed everyone on offense. So, if we’re basing this on who’s EARNED a starting position, the answer is clearly Watkins. And if he keeps on making play after play after play, I’m not sure how this coaching staff is going to be able to keep him off the field.
I get it, it’s preseason. We’ve seen so many wide receivers light it up during training camp and preseason before and then it to lead to… nothing. I’ve seen fans already claim Watkins is just another Paul Turner. And who knows, maybe all of this is premature and irrelevant. Maybe he does start to struggle when the games actually start to count. In no way am I guaranteeing that Watkins is on his way to greatness. What I am saying, however, is that for the great receivers we’ve seen in this league who were late-round picks, their emergence started at some point. They all showed signs during training camp and preseason that everything had finally started to click for them. Therefore, who’s to say that this can’t be that for Quez Watkins? Like I said at the beginning, it was never about a lack of physical talent or ability for him. That’s what potentially separates him from the Paul Turners of the world.
Can Quez Watkins win a starting receiver spot on this Eagles team?
We shall find out soon.