It’s been a long time coming for Quez Watkins. The rookie sixth-rounder has been patiently “waiting his turn” and finally got his number called last week. The speedy receiver promptly turned it into six points on a 32-yard touchdown scamper on 3rd-and-20. Peace out.
Watkins threw up the peace sign with two fingers as he crossed the goal line, but it wasn’t a sign of disrespect to any of the Arizona Cardinals defenders trailing him. No, it was a shout out to teammate Greg Ward who had followed him down the field and helped block. The kid from Southern Miss looked electric on the catch, taking a short touch pass from Jalen Hurts and putting a nifty spin move on linebacker Markus Golden. From there, it was a foot race and Watkins — 4.35 seconds in the 40 — wasn’t losing it.
“When I caught the ball, I didn’t see nothing but red,” Watkins told reporters on Wednesday. “I just stuck my foot in the ground and was trying to get positive yards and when I saw open grass, I just used my speed and took it. It felt amazing. I was so hype. If you could really see my face through the helmet, I was smiling ear to ear.”
At 22 years old, the Alabama native has his whole career ahead of him to make big plays like that one. The moment is never too big or too small, especially for a guy who has lofty goals. Watkins doesn’t just want to earn a paycheck, he is looking to set records.
“I want to show them that I belong in this league,” Watkins said, “and looking forward to next year, that I can play in this league and can become a Pro Bowler or all-time receiving leader. That’s just some of my goals.”
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Enduring Injury, Building Chemistry
It hasn’t been easy for Watkins who battled an upper-body injury during training camp and didn’t make his NFL debut until Week 5. Then he was left inactive from Week 6 until Week 14 — with an undisclosed illness scattered in there — before making his first catch as a pro on Dec. 13 against the New Orleans Saints.
It was frustrating for a guy who flashed so strongly early in training camp, showing good chemistry with Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz. He even beat a few veteran cornerbacks in limited reps.
“First few months just waiting my turn, all I could do honestly,” Watkins said. “Staying engaged, still grinding every day, and when my number was called I answered and stepped up.”
Now Watkins now has five catches for 43 yards and one touchdown in four games. Hopefully, his role continues to increase — although the impending return of DeSean Jackson could jeopardize that from happening — as that chemistry with Hurts comes back to life. The two actually trained together for a little bit in Atlanta before the NFL Scouting Combine.
“He’s just a natural-born leader,” Watkins said of Hurts. “I can talk to him about anything besides football and he’s going to hit me with some motivation. I might not be trying to hear it at the moment but it’s always helpful. He’s an uplifting person so that’s one thing I love about him.”
Hurts and Watkins hadn’t met each other prior to February, but they definitely knew “of each other.” Now they are trying to become a formidable duo in the NFL, staying after practice to work on their timing. Extra reps are a rookie’s best friend.
“Keep that connection growing,” Watkins said.
Doug Pederson Challenged Young Guys
Doug Pederson’s ability to motivate his young players is an underrated skill. Sometimes the head coach will take a subtle shot at a player’s conditioning or lack of effort in a press conference. It’s usually meant to inspire and not insult.
Earlier this week, Pederson revealed that he had challenged guys like Watkins, along with fellow rookies John Hightower and Jalen Reagor, to step up their games in the coming weeks.
“I’ve challenged them during the week that they’ve got to show up. That’s been my message to them, and they’ve done that,” Pederson said. “I’ve been impressed with their skill and ability, and now it’s a matter of just continuing to show up in games. I’ve been impressed with that group, and like I said, I think the sky’s the limit.”
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