Watkins has dealt with a chronic ankle injury for years, according to head coach Andy Reid. The pain has worsened of late, and the team is expected to start fifth round rookie Dennis Kelly in Watkins’ place this Sunday.
Kelly is a mammoth of a man at 6’8” and 321 pounds, and he’s extremely raw, having played just three snaps at the NFL level. All of those snaps were at tackle, so it’s safe to say the Eagles could struggle once again this week in pass protection.
Then again, the team has been extremely subpar all season, and Watkins epitomizes that with his performance in 2012. Watkins has still started just 18 games since he was drafted, and it’s way too early to declare him a bust.
But it is fair to say he has underachieved compared to expectations. Watkins allowed 23 quarterback hurries and committed five penalties in just 12 starts last year, rating as just the 49th best guard in the league among 78 qualifiers.
This year, he’s down to the 54th best out of 72 guards, per Pro Football Focus. Watkins looked particularly lost against the Detroit Lions, surrendering three quarterback hits and a quarterback hurry.
Whether Kelly is the long-term answer at right guard is highly doubtful. Kelly was drafted to be a tackle, and the Eagles have so little depth at guard that they’re willing to try Kelly against the NFL’s lone undefeated team.
If anything, hopefully this simply serves as a wake-up call to Watkins, who is playing at nowhere near the potential he showed when the Eagles picked him in the first round 18 months ago. Neither is the entire line, as the unit has already allowed Michael Vick to be sacked 17 times, the 10th highest total in the league.
If Kelly surprises and plays well, the Eagles will probably give him another start the following week. If he doesn’t play well, it’s probably not going to be much worse than Watkins.