A lot of people were surprised by the emergence of Quez Watkins this summer, going from a second-year sixth-round pick on the roster bubble to entrenching himself as a starting receiver in the Eagles’ offense.
TJ Brown was not one of those people.
Because Brown watched Watkins’ progress all offseason in Atlanta and — along with Brown’s brother Stephon — helped turn Watkins into the receiver we saw in training camp.
“I just kind of expected it,” Brown said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. “With Quez being a receiver that already had speed, once he added more releases and more ways to run routes to his game and understanding what and when and why he’s doing it.
“I knew it was going to take his game to the next level. Because speed is something you can’t teach and once you teach a receiver with speed how to run real routes and how to get open, it shows a lot on film.”
Brown remembers the exact day he knew that something special was brewing with Watkins this summer. Early in July, they had their group of receivers, which included guys like Watkins and former first-round pick Jerry Jeudy, face off with NFL defensive backs who were also training in the Atlanta area.
Watkins, who had just turned 23 the previous month, smoked them in 1-on-1 drills.
“Once I saw that, that opened my eyes,” Brown said. “OK, little bro ready. He’s ready now. When we did those 1-on-1s and he embarrassed the DBs, I said, ‘Oh yeah, you ready little bro.’”
Not too long after that day, Watkins arrived in Philadelphia and proceeded to impress to the point where he was removed from the bubble and then placed in the starting lineup with first-round picks DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor.
Learning from the best
Brown’s TopShelf Performance boasts a roster of NFL receivers, including a guy who many consider to be one of the best route runners in the league: Calvin Ridley.
The Falcons’ receiver had a huge season in 2020 and is now ready to take the reins as the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta following the departure of future Hall of Famer Julio Jones. That starts Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium, coincidentally, against Watkins and the Eagles.
Watkins undoubtedly learned a lot from his trainers this offseason but he also took some away from Watkins too.
“Really learning how to get in and out of my breaks,” Watkins said of the lessons from Ridley. “Staying low, consistently staying low in and out of my routes, no matter what route it is. And just getting in and out as fast as possible.”
Watkins sees similarities between him and Ridley but he knew he wanted to work on his routes. That’s the part of Ridley’s game he admires most.
“Yeah, he’s one of the best route runners in the game,” Watkins said.
“They’re all trying to pick each other’s brains,” Brown said. “New skill sets, new releases, new ways you can run routes. I feel like that was able to help him a lot.”
Being more than speed
Watkins arrived in Atlanta to begin working out with the Brown brothers in February and pretty much stayed there until July when it was time to report for training camp.
He also worked out with them last year as he prepared for the NFL draft, but this year Watkins had a new goal in mind.
Watkins ran a 4.35 at the Southern Mississippi pro day last year. Despite his limited playing time as a rookie, everyone knew he was fast. He wanted to prove he was more than just straight line speed.
What did he learn this offseason?
“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.”
Brown calls it being “deceptive” with your speed. So if Watkins comes off the line at 50%, he has the ability to make it look like he’s going full speed and then really kick it into high gear. It’s about using that unteachable speed to set up the rest of his game. Those skills help on the outside but they also help in the slot, where Watkins will likely play a lot in 2021.
Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said he didn’t know much about Watkins before he arrived in Philadelphia this offseason. That’s OK. Because Watkins is a much different player than the rookie version of himself anyway.
That showed all summer.
Now it’s time to see if it shows up when it counts.
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