For most of his rookie season, Quez Watkins just had to wait his turn.
The Eagles’ 2020 sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi began his rookie season on the Eagles’ injured reserve list and played just a total of 20 offensive snaps through the first 13 weeks of the season.
But in those last four games of 2020, Watkins finally got on the field and looked good, catching seven passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. No, not Earth-shattering stats, but a start.
“It gave me an upper hand, I guess you could say,” Watkins said last week. “Last year I kind of got my feet wet the last couple games. I knew what to expect coming in this year.”
And the speedy wideout is keeping his positive momentum going in 2021.
Watkins has been the best overall receiver at Eagles training camp this summer and just had a tremendous night in front of nearly 26,000 Eagles fans on Sunday at the Linc.
While there are still plenty of question marks about the Eagles’ young receiving corps this season, Watkins has been having the most consistent training camp among the group. And it looks like he’s going to make a serious push to earn some playing time in his second NFL season.
Watkins, 23, deserves more first-team reps.
“I feel like it’s going pretty good so far,” Watkins said. “I feel a lot better than I did last year.”
While Watkins missed the very beginning of camp with a non-COVID illness, since getting back on the field, he just seems to make plays every day. While we’ve seen highs and lows from Jalen Reagor and John Hightower, Watkins has been steadily making plays.
And he looks like a much improved player from his rookie season.
This offseason, Watkins worked on a bunch of things. He wanted to get stronger, he wanted to improve his route running and he also wanted to learn how to harness his 4.35 speed and disguise it a little better.
“Being able to control my speed,” Watkins said. “Being able to make my 75 look like 100, being able to make my 100 look like 100. And just being able to be in control of my routes and get in and out of my breaks.”
We know DeVonta Smith will be the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver once he returns from his knee sprain, but we haven’t seen him and Reagor at practice together yet this summer. Smith and Reagor will likely be major pieces to the offensive puzzle. After that, the Eagles have Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Watkins, who has a real chance to see the field more. Especially if he keeps playing how he has early in camp.
This summer, Watkins has been reunited with quarterback Nick Mullens, a former teammate from Southern Mississippi. Back in 2016, Mullens was a senior when Watkins arrived on campus. Even though Watkins redshirted that season, Mullens already saw something special.
“I remember the first day, I knew he was going to be an NFL guy,” Mullens said. “He definitely stood out among our skill guys there. To see him develop, it’s been awesome. I’m very proud of guys like that. You know they can do it. It’s just a matter of them deciding they want to do it. So to watch him from a freshman to being great at Southern Miss to taking advantage of his opportunities here. It’s been really cool to see and I’m always rooting for him.”
Mullens might be so proud of Watkins because he knows his backstory. After Watkins’ 2018 season at Southern Miss, he was forced to leave school and attend a local community college in Alabama in the spring to improve his grades before he could return.
But his former coach at Southern Miss said that not only did Watkins improve his grades but he matured in all aspects when he returned for his final college season in 2019 before entering the draft.
It’s probably no coincidence that Watkins’ emergence last season coincided with Jalen Hurts’ taking over as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. The two formed a tight bond last summer and had an obvious rapport. They worked out together again this offseason.
That bond with Hurts can only help Watkins as he enters Year 2.
“The only thing I’ll say about [Hurts] is he’s more aggressive this year than he was last year,” Watkins said. “He’s the starting quarterback so he’s more aggressive with us. He’s more in control and he’s trying to bring everyone together and he’s just making sure everyone is on the same page.”
As far as the new offense that Nick Sirianni is installing in Philadelphia, Watkins really likes it. It’s a fast-paced scheme and he even likes that Sirianni is a former receivers coach.
During the summer, we’ve already seen Sirianni spend a ton of time with the young group of wideouts.
“The receiving room is always competitive, everyone trying to make plays,” Watkins said. “Everybody trying to win a job, trying to have an opportunity.”
Watkins is definitely in the mix.
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