Notre Dame filled a dire need in its 2014 recruiting class on Friday, when defensive back Nick Watkins committed to Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. The cornerback prospect stars at Bishop Dunne Catholic (Dallas, Texas) and brings a polished playing style to the secondary.
Watkins, a 6'1", 185-pound athlete with excellent speed, is listed as the nation's No. 11 cornerback recruit in 247Sports rankings. He emerged among America's elite talents as a sophomore, when he tallied 49 tackles and five interceptions, according to 247Sports.
He spent an official visit in South Bend last month before announcing his decision. Watkins' offer list includes Alabama, Baylor, Georgia, Florida State, Ole Miss and Michigan.
In our latest prospect scouting report, we break down his skill set to understand why Watkins ranks among the country's most coveted high school cornerbacks.
|School||Bishop Dunne Catholic|
|Size||6'1", 185 pounds|
|Rankings||No. 113 nationally, No. 11 CB, No. 17 player in Texas|
|Key Offers||Alabama, UCLA, Baylor, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State|
|Commitment||Notre Dame (Nov. 1, 2013)|
Watkins' dominance in coverage starts at the line of scrimmage. He understands the importance of impeding a receiver's progress at the snap and embraces a physical approach.
His efforts to jam receivers creates confusion for the quarterback and give him an early indication of which direction his opponent is headed. As you can see in the video still below, Watkins isn't willing to sacrifice space at the start of a play.
He is extremely smooth in sideline coverage and doesn't require much cushion to operate. Some defensive backs struggle with limited wiggle room, but Watkins thrives in a man-to-man scheme and erases offensive opportunities downfield.
In the video still below, he shows off exemplary footwork along the white.
This is an example of where Watkins' experience as a wide receiver shows through. He displays great hands and attacks the ball at its highest point.
At 6'1", Watkins is tall enough to contend for jump balls. His leaping ability really puts the pressure on passers.
Below, you can see how Watkins is able to go airborne in order to make the catch in traffic.
He's a relentless competitor in coverage, but he doesn't get overzealous. Watkins maintains excellent mechanics, watching the receiver's reaction to an incoming pass attempt.
He keeps his head on a swivel, and smooth hips allow him to adjust as the ball reaches its intended target. Even if Watkins doesn't come down with an interception, he often disrupts plays by deflecting the football.
Watkins is a polished cover corner, but he has room to grow as an all-around defensive back. His tackling technique is suspect and must be cleaned up before he's ready to flourish for the Fighting Irish.
While Watkins shows no hesitancy in downfield coverage, he is slightly tentative in run support. An instinctive player like him should show more confidence in run gap identification and burst toward the ball-carrier.
He often aims low on tackles, as you can see below. He can get away with this at the high school level, but collegiate players punish defenders on tackle attempts that start near the knees.
Watkins will sometimes already be nearly down on one knee when he looks to wrap up, sacrificing significant leverage.
What are your expectations for new Notre Dame commit Nick Watkins?
If he can improve as a tackler, there's reason to wonder if Watkins will become one of college football's most complete cornerbacks. He is an incredibly impressive defender in pass coverage, with instincts off the charts.
Watkins is currently the only true cornerback in Notre Dame's 17-player recruiting class. He'll be a top newcomer in next year's defensive backfield rotation, along with redshirt freshman Rashad Kinlaw.
His ability to maneuver in the open field also suggests that Watkins could become a capable kick returner for the Fighting Irish. He's an immediate asset for Kelly's special teams coverage units.
Watkins has the skill set to develop into a multi-year starter in South Bend. A strong freshman training camp would greatly boost his prospects of securing a key role sooner rather than later.