Dallas Cowboys safety, Pat Watkins, is a bit of an enigma.
With size and speed measurements (6'5", 215 lbs, 4.42 speed, 41" vertical) straight out of a Madden create-a-player fantasy, Watkins has all requisite physical tools to be a player in the NFL.
The problem for the fourth year veteran out of Florida State is found beneath his helmet.
Watkins was thrust into a starting role his rookie year (2006) under Bill Parcells. His rookie season was filled with the typical ups and downs that most rookies experience.
However, Watkins seemed to struggle at shaking lost confidence when plays went bad. As witnessed during his mental meltdown at Lincoln Financial Field that season.
Since then, Watkins has not legitimately been in contention for a starting role again.
In 2007, the Cowboys brought in Ken Hamlin to bring stability and experience to the free safety position. The Cowboys eventually signed Hamlin to a multi-year contract after he posted a successful first year with the team. This effectively ended any hopes of Watkins manning the position in the near future.
The Cowboys did try Watkins at strong safety in 2008. However, the experiment didn't yield what the Cowboys were looking for; Watkins, although willing, was not a good form tackler, which limited his run support capabilities.
The Cowboys have a good grasp of what Watkins can and can't do as a defensive back. The fact the Cowboys went heavy with defensive backs in the draft and even converted some of their cornerbacks into hybrid safeties doesn't bode well for Watkins.
To remain on the squad in 2009, Watkins is going to solidify his role on special teams.
This works to Watkins' favor, as he's proven to be a good special teamer in the past (team leader in 2007 with 25 special teams tackles). In fact, he may be one of the best special team gunners in the league. Despite missing eight games last season due to injury, Watkins posted nine special teams tackles in 2008.
With the influx of talent via the draft (M. Hamlin, Smith and Mickens) and free agency (Sensabaugh), a roster spot is not assured to Watkins.
If he can stay healthy and makes some plays in preseason, Watkins may force the Cowboys to save a roster spot for him.