During the offseason, we’ll be taking a close look at Philadelphia Eagles players of interest who are currently on the roster, but maybe we don’t know a lot about them just yet. Today we’ll look at wide receiver Quez Watkins.
Previously published player reviews
Zech McPhearson | Jack Anderson | A.J. Brown | Jason Huntley | Andre Dillard
Before we get started, I cut up video of all 69 of Watkins’ targets in 2021. It’s a little over 20 minutes long. I’ll wait while you go watch that. To note, you may have to click “Watch on YouTube” below to see the video. Apologies in advance for some moments when the screen freezes. NFL GamePass isn’t exactly a stellar product.
Done? Great! Before we get to our notes on Watkins’ game, here’s a snapshot of his career production:
Aaaaand here’s a look at his 2021 gamelog:
• Production: Watkins quietly had 647 receiving yards in the regular season in 2021. He more than doubled the production of Jalen Reagor, who had 299. Watkins played 771 offensive snaps, while Reagor played 750. As you can see in the game log above, Watkins never had more than five receptions in one game, though he also only had one game with fewer than two receptions, which was the game against the Saints during which the Eagles ran it 50 times and Jalen Hurts only had 13 completions.
• Big play threat: Watkins had 12 receptions of 20+ yards. Those receptions went for 91, 41, 53, 24, 23, 27, 22, 28, 39, 22, 36, and 35 yards. He also had a pair of 20+ yard receptions negated by penalties against the Cowboys Week 3.
His most memorable big play was the 91-yarder against the 49ers:
That was actually the longest pass play in the NFL in 2021. Watkins ran a 4.35 40 at the 2020 NFL Combine, and as you can see from that long pass play, he has the ability to take the top off the defense.
But in addition to getting behind the defense, Watkins also has the ability to turn short passes into big plays. We saw a glimpse of it in his rookie season against the Cardinals:
And then again during the 2021 preseason:
And then again at times during the 2021 season, most notably against the Cowboys:
As you saw in the targets video above, there were times that Watkins lost yardage on some quick screens because he tried to make something happen, but I think you live with that when he has this kind of ability to make plays in the open field.
• Contested catches: You wouldn’t except this 193-pound receiver who can fly to make a lot of contested catches, but that is a positive part of Watkins’ game, as he made more than his share of contested catches during the 2021 season. I thought the most impressive one was in the back of the end zone in the Eagles’ regular season matchup against the Buccaneers. It was clearly defensive pass interference against Jamel Dean (that wasn’t called), but Watkins was still able to bring in the pass, even if he landed out of bounds due to the interference.
Contested catches were a part of Watkins’ game at Southern Mississippi as well, as you can see in this college highlight reel:
In an offense with Dallas Goedert and A.J. Brown, I don’t think Watkins will be the first choice if the Eagles want to run fade routes in the red zone, but on deep balls down the field that aren’t thrown accurately, Watkins can make plays on the football, as his targets video shows.
• Hands: I have Watkins down for two drops on the 2021 season. One was on a quick screen. The other was a dropped TD against the Broncos in which he ran a good route, got behind the defense, and then just didn’t finish.
But overall, Watkins displayed good hands both during the season and in training camp, snatching the ball away from his body cleanly, and rarely “double-catching” the football.
• Route running: Watkins created separation, and Hurts generally trusted him to be where he was supposed to be. In the targets video above, there was one mistake in the playoff game in Tampa that Troy Aikman pointed out where Watkins throttled down and could have caused an interception. But overall, Watkins’ route running should be viewed as encouraging for a player coming from a C-USA school entering his third year in the NFL.
• Sideline awareness: Watkins made several toe-drag / toe-tap catches near the sideline. He seems to have good awareness of where he is on the field.
• Tackle breaking: Pro-Football-Reference.com had Watkins down for 5 broken tackles in 2021. I didn’t count them myself, but that sounds about right. He’s unlikely to ever be tackle breaker like A.J. Brown, for example, but it’s worth noting the Watkins can be a feisty runner, who does not often give himself up and will fight for extra yardage. He also has 32 7/8″ arms (74th percentile among receivers), and he uses them to stiff-arm would-be tacklers, as you’ll see in his targets video.
• Kick returner: Watkins opened the season as the team’s No. 1 kick returner. He had 8 returns for 138 yards (17.3 YPR). He lost that job along the way, as he had zero kick returns from Week 10 through the rest of the season.
Watkins’ 2022 outlook
The Eagles’ trio of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are going to dominate targets in the Eagles’ offense in 2022. However, Watkins will certainly have a role, and I would look for Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen to scheme up a few plays per game specifically intended for Watkins.
When the ball isn’t going Watkins’ way, opposing defenses will still have to respect his deep speed, which could help open up the short and intermediate areas of the field for Brown, Smith, and Goedert to operate. In a way, Watkins is a perfect complement to that trio, in that (a) he’ll open up space for them, (b) he won’t require a heavy target share, and (c) he has proven that he can make big plays when the ball comes his way.
Watkins averaged 3.4 targets per game in 2021. Even if that total dips a smidge in 2022 while going from WR2 to WR3, I believe he is being slept on a bit as a playmaker who can have a real impact in some games this season.
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