Looking at the wide receiver depth chart may cause goosebumps at first glance. The Philadelphia Eagles have A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith penciled in as the starters, a one-two punch that could push for the best combo in the National Football League.
But the guy sitting behind them could be the biggest problem of the bunch, according to one teammate. Quez Watkins is poised for a breakout year.
“Quez is a great player. I knew he was a great player since he got in here,” cornerback Avonte Maddox said. “And he’s fast, and he makes contested catches, little do you know. He’s going to be a problem if guys want to sit there and put their best guys on DeVonta [Smith] or A.J. [Brown] or Dallas [Goedert] or whatever — that’s an explosive offense I just called out. That is going to leave Quez to have a breakout year.”
Watkins was arguably the best receiver in training camp last year, then proved it by making dazzling, highlight-reel catches in the preseason. It didn’t necessarily translate over into the regular season, but that was more due to a lack of opportunities. The coaching staff was trying to force the issue with Jalen Reagor with no success.
But when Watkins’ number was called he shined. He finished with 43 receptions for 647 yards and one touchdown. His 15.0 yards-per-catch ranked first on the Eagles among receivers with at least 200 snaps, along with putting him at No. 13 in the NFL. More importantly, the speedy outside threat got valuable experience playing in the slot last season. Serving as an explosive inside target should be his main role in 2022.
“Honestly, last year helped me get out of my comfort zone,” Watkins said of playing the slot. “I played outside all my career, but moving in the slot got me out of my comfort zone. Now, I’m able to go inside or outside, being able to do both, it’s just another tool for me.”
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Watkins Says He ‘Loved’ the A.J. Brown Trade
It’s hard to find someone who didn’t love the Eagles’ draft-day trade for A.J. Brown. It instantly upgraded a mediocre receiving corps into what could be an elite one. However, if anyone had a right to complain it could have been Watkins since his targets could suffer. Nope. That’s not what team players do.
“I loved it,” Watkins said of the Brown trade. “Honestly, it’s an extra guy in the room, extra threat in the room, so for us, it’s just going to be dynamic.”
And Watkins doesn’t see his role changing. Whether they play him in the slot or on the outside, the dynamic 23-year-old is going to make the most of his opportunities.
“My role doesn’t change,” Watkins said. “We’re all going to compete and we’re all going to do our part, our 1/11 on the field, so my role isn’t going to change. I’m going to continue to do what I do.”
Eagles Have Interesting Options at Slot WR
Obviously, the Eagles are going to rotate Watkins between the outside and the slot. His speed — 4.35 seconds in the 40 at the 2020 Combine, the second-fastest among receivers that year — makes him too dangerous to limit to inside routes.
Philadelphia will experiment with Watkins there in certain formations while letting newcomer Zach Pascal and veteran Greg Ward Jr. take turns in the slot. Their depth at the position is suddenly enviable.
“Quez has big-play ability in him,” head coach Nick Sirianni said on January 19. “I think out of the No. 2 wide-outs I’ve been around in the NFL, he can be one of the best No. 2’s that I’ve been around in the NFL because of his skillset and because of his ability to make plays.”
For his part, Watkins mentioned studying dominant slot guys like Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, and Keenan Allen (from early in his carer) to hone his skills. He sounds ready to explode.
“It’s like an obstacle course inside,” Watkins said, “and then outside I get to use more of my speed. I’ve learned how to play faster in it [inside]. I was playing at a slower pace.”