Anyone who has watched the Eagles practice for the first few weeks of training camp has become very well acquainted with the abilities of receiver Quez Watkins.
He showed the rest of the NFL on Thursday night.
“He isn’t a secret anymore,” Jalen Hurts said. “So, that’s unfortunate.”
Late in the first quarter of the Eagles’ first preseason game against the Steelers — the Eagles lost 24-16, but who cares? — Joe Flacco checked to a screen play for Watkins, who couldn’t help but smile when he heard it.
He knew it had a chance. And he was right.
Lined up in the slot, Watkins took a step back, caught the quick pass from Flacco, waited a split second to allow his blockers to get to work and then turned on the burners, taking it 79 yards to the house.
“That’s not the first time I’ve seen [Watkins] take one of those screens,” Hurts said. “He’s, like, two-for-two on those screens in his career. I think he’s a great player. He knows what I think of him and he could be a really good player for us. This game is no representation of what he’s been doing and the progress he’s made from last year. [From when] we both got here until now.”
Watkins, 23, has been tremendous all summer for the Eagles. Not only is he easily earning a spot on the 53-man roster but he’s pushing for serious playing time this season. While DeVonta Smith has been dealing with a knee injury, Watkins has been the Eagles’ best receiver in training camp.
He had a 79-yarder but Watkins nearly pulled in a 98-yarder from Hurts earlier in the quarter too. The two second-year players narrowly missed on the deep shot down the left sideline after Watkins slipped behind a defender. They didn’t connect, but it was another example of Watkins’ game-breaking speed.
Watkins ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash coming out of Southern Mississippi last year, which was obviously a big reason the Eagles took a chance on him with a sixth-round pick.
But Watkins didn’t want to be known as a one-trick pony. Sure, as far as tricks go, running a 4.35 is a pretty good one. But Watkins put in a ton of work to become a more well-rounded player before entering Year 2.
“This whole offseason I just made everything personal,” Watkins said. “Everything people said I couldn’t do. ‘I was only fast.’ I just made everything personal and put the work in.”
Watkins had a few goals this offseason. He wanted to become more physical, more aggressive, a better route-runner, a better playmaker. He obviously still wanted to use his speed but he wanted to harness it better and let defenders think everything is going to be a shot over the top.
Think of it like a baseball pitcher using his fastball to set up a changeup.
“(Eagles receivers coach) Aaron Moorehead has done a great job developing him, and Quez has done a great job of just getting better every day,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “So just look forward to correcting the mistakes that he made tonight and growing from the good things that he did tonight.”
As a rookie, Watkins barely played until the last four games of the 2020 season. Even then, his stats weren’t great but he got his first real NFL action and that has helped him as he returned for his second season.
On Thursday night, he looked like a player who will be able to help the Eagles in 2021. The Birds might have already known that, but now they’re not alone.
The secret’s out.
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