Today we are analyzing Austin Watkins, UAB’s 6’3″ 210 lb. sleeper wide receiver prospect who was named First-team All-C-USA in 2020 and invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Strengths: Watkins is a very well-rounded receiver who checks all the boxes. He possesses good size, strength, and physicality, often showing he is stronger than his opponent throughout the route and being able to clear space to make a catch late in the route through physical handwork if he has not yet separated. Watkins has a good athletic profile to pair with his size and strength. He has the quickness and suddenness to beat press with crafty releases. This extends to his route-running, as he can sink in and out of his breaks, and has an element of deceptiveness in his routes. This was especially on display at the Senior Bowl, where Watkins showed good route-running to separate from receivers. Watkins has the speed to threaten deep, and can pair this with a dangerous double move to make big plays downfield. He also excels at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. Watkins has very reliable hands, as he can catch through contact or go up and get it for tougher receptions. Overall, Watkins has shown an ability to win on all three levels of the field. He is additionally a strong and willing run blocker.
Weaknesses: Watkins does not possess any elite trait, which may put a limit on his ceiling in the NFL. The most difficult piece of his evaluation is his level of competition, as it is evident on tape that the cornerback play he faced was nowhere near on par with what awaits him in the NFL. Watkins will face much tighter man coverage in the NFL, and will have to prove that he can still separate. UAB was a very run-heavy offense, so he was rarely asked to be a high-volume receiver either. Despite having good downfield speed, he is more of a build-up runner in that regard and does not have a special instant burst.
Bottom Line: I see Watkins as a very intriguing sleeper wide receiver who should be much better in the NFL than in college. He was clearly hurt by poor quarterback play and his offense being very run-heavy, so while the NFL will present much better cornerback play that he will have to adjust to, he will also benefit from much more accurate passes. While Watkins might not have an elite trait, he is very well-rounded with a great combination of size, strength, athleticism, speed, and route-running. His performance at the Senior Bowl inspires confidence that he can be a good starting wide receiver in the NFL once he transitions to the step up in competition.
Draft Projection: Rounds 3-4
My Draft Grade: 2.7 (indicative of a mid-late second round grade)
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