With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, the British Columbia native who grew up playing hockey and rugby. Watkins started playing football four years ago when he went to California's Butte College (the same place Aaron Rodgers(notes) got his collegiate start), and he was good enough for Baylor to pick him up before the 2009 season and ask him to replace Jason Smith(notes) at left tackle.
Watkins impressed as a power tackle for two seasons, but was asked to play guard and center during Senior Bowl week. He walked out of Mobile as perhaps the most impressive offensive prospect of the entire event. In his two years at Baylor, Watkins totaled 237 knockdowns over 25 games.
Pros: Having never played guard in game situations before Senior Bowl week, Watkins kicked inside nonetheless and looked as if he'd played the position for years. He has a natural low stance from which he explodes into the defender. He also has tremendous upper-body strength; even when he's bent back at the point of attack, he can resurface and win the power battle. Has a wide lower body which he naturally uses to establish a strong base as he gets his second foot down and in position.
For his size (6-foot-4, 312 pounds), Watkins has real side-to-side agility; he's very good at preventing defenders from getting around him with quick outside moves. Played out of a two-point stance most of the time at Baylor, but told me at the Senior Bowl that he's just as happy to put his hand down and blow defenders out. Also practiced at the center position and had an equal affinity for that position. Selected fourth overall in the 2010 Canadian Football League draft, but chose to fulfill his obligation to Baylor and try his luck with the NFL after his senior season.
Cons: The former part-time firefighter (he went to Butte because of the school's Fire Sciences program) will turn 27 years old in November, which may give potential NFL suitors pause as much as his lack of experience -- his age could make him a one-contract guy. Doesn't possess great second-level agility, but may be able to modify his technique over time to fit a zone-combo scheme. Watkins' natural ability to adopt a new position will be tested by more complex NFL defenses -- it wouldn't be surprising if he struggles at first as his technique catches up to his raw ability.
Conclusion: You'll be hearing a lot about Watkins in the next couple of months -- he's a humble guy with a gregarious personality, and he's impressed most draft analysts. The mistake would be in assuming that he's a "Rudy" type just because he's a natural media favorite. Watkins has the kind of ability that could soon have him among the elite at the guard position.