"I like playing tough and physical, putting my hand in the dirt, smiling at the guy across from me," Watkins said. "I'm smiling because I know what I'm going to do to him. He's not smiling, because he knows what's coming."
I’ll make it clear from the beginning: I am not one of those individuals strongly in favor of drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. I think it should be a possibility, along with four or five other positions of major need.
However, following an organization that is willing to leave no stone unturned, well, requires no stone be left unturned when analyzing players that fit as potential first round prospects.
I have previously highlighted Watkins as a player to watch, and the more I learn about him, the more I believe he can be a good, to great, starting guard for the next decade.
And for the Seahawks to get Watkins, it will likely take their first round pick if they stand pat at 25. Watkins is very unlikely to fall to the end of the second.
Now, taking a guard in the first round certainly follows an unconventional line of thinking, especially a player not named M. Pouncey.
The 26 year old, 27 on "opening" day, Canadian hockey and rugby player has only four years of football experience. His lack of experience and lack of elite athleticism project him as an interior lineman initially in the NFL, but his size, strength and motor are ideal for a power zone blocking scheme. He blocks with sound hand technique to the second level and is a mean finisher.
Watkins’ flaws are lack of recognition on stunts and blitzes, largely due to his lack of experience, and inconsistent knee-waist bend. Though, he credits his time in hockey as an advantage in that area. Will this supposed advantage show as his technique improves, or could that be a red flag?.
The arrow points up for Watkins. His agent, former seven year NFL veteran at guard Joe Panos, called him the "best kept secret in college football."
Take the complement with a grain of salt, but realize Watkins has the potential to be an inside anchor, and spot fill in outside, for nearly a decade. A 27 year old rookie with only four years of football wear can play for a decade-plus, if he remains healthy. Watkins hasn’t shown any injury concerns and his football athleticism will grow under the guidance of an NFL strength training staff.
He has very sound feet, not surprising given his hockey background, providing a solid base for more muscle on his frame. Not to mention he’d be playing under Tom Cable, who can refine the technique to Watkins’ mean streak (check out the video).
In my pre-combine preview, I noted Carroll seemed pleased with the unheralded depth players on the interior line within the program, a group of hardworking players that know the system and are committed to being a Seahawk.
GM John Schneider recently re-enforced Carroll's post season presser sentiments that the line of scrimmage is the main priority for upgrade this off-season.
Taking a guard in the first round would prove to be on a different line of thinking than most pundits, but an extremely bold move that could help fortify both sides of the offensive line.
It would also put pressure on the organization to fill some major needs, such as quarterback, later in the draft and without a third round pick--Charlie Whitehurst was acquired for that pick in 2010. A quarterback in the second and Seattle has six picks on day three to improve the defense and maybe find a fullback.
Now, we don’t really know where the quarterbacks will be taken in 2011, a Jimmy Clausen or Aaron Rodgers-like scenario is at least a slight possibility for even the top quarterback prospects.
Back to Watkins.
He is an unconventional guy, a former fireman in Kelowna, B.C. that supposedly didn’t like to watch football growing up because it took up TV time in favor of Hockey. But, he ultimately left his public service career in favor of the game—he intends to visit the firehouse when he goes back to Canada.
Firemen generally take tremendous pride in their service and believe in camaraderie as a core value. On the football field, Watkins creates camaraderie by working his tail off and putting other guys in the dirt.
Carroll and Schneider need to keep a pulse on Watkins as we get closer to the draft. I can imagine the following scenario:
Is he a reach at No. 25? Maybe- Brian Baldinger of NFL.com currently has Seattle taking Watkins, while Charles Davis has him at 31 to Pittsburgh. Others have him somewhere in the top 40. Watkins' value currently lies on the fringe of the first round, could tip either way on draft weekend.
But this is the off-beat pick that could be right up Seattle’s alley, especially if they bring back Tyler Polumbus—remember, they traded for him in 2010—and rely on the depth within the program to provide the competition at the other guard spot. I think it’s possible one of the Seahawks starting guards in 2011 is a player that’s not currently a household name.
If Stacy Andrews and his giant salary are in fact a legitimate factor at right tackle in 2011, they can wait a year to invest another first rounder in a tackle. Plus, Schneider teams have taken more offensive lineman—six—in the first round than any other position.
With Polumbus possibly back, is there a need to draft an athletic project later in the draft, or does free agency bring a capable backup tackle that understands the system? Is Ray Willis unexpected part of the 2011 competition at tackle? I think the Seahawks line would be improved going into 2011 under that scenario.
And as I said earlier, they could then focus on all defense. While going defense in the first two picks is a scenario I will explore later, maybe taking a guard in round one leads to the right quarterback prospect falling in round two. We just don’t know.
If the Seahawks take Watkins in round one, they potentially have three sure fire offensive lineman, one at each position, for the next 5-10 years: Okung at left tackle, Unger at center and Watkins at guard. Let’s not forget about Mike Gibson either, who worked his way in the Seattle starting lineup at right guard and helped fortify the running game, to an extent, from week 15 forward.
With the scenario laid out above, Seattle would have fierce competition at right tackle and at guard opposite Watkins.
And if Watkins turns out to be one of the NFL’s nastiest guards, that wouldn’t be so bad either.