Without question, the biggest hole in the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense in 2010 was the position of right guard, where the terrible twosome of Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole failed to even adequately protect quarterback Michael Vick.
The team took the right step to fixing that problem by using their first round draft pick on a guard. The only other guard drafted in the first round by Andy Reid was Shawn Andrews in 2004, and he turned into one of the most dominant linemen in the National Football League (before attitude and health issues ended his career in Philly on a sour note).
Baylor guard Danny Watkins was selected with the 23rd overall pick and was immediately expected to start at right guard. The fact that he was 27 years old, making him the oldest first round pick in three decades, didn’t go over too well with Eagles fans but management used it as an excuse that the ‘kid’ would be ready to play right away.
So what happened?
Well first there was the change in position coaches from Juan Castillo, who was strangely named the defensive coordinator (no experience required) to Howard Mudd, an absolute legend and the man who masterminded the protecting of four-time Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning.
This didn’t affect Watkins though because he had never played under Castillo. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get to play under Mudd for the first three months either, as the NFL lockout prevented players and coaches from interacting.
I’d like to say that things went smoothly for Watkins once the lockout ended, in late July, but that wasn’t the case at all. No, poor Danny was completely in over his head, and struggled to perform on the field throughout the preseason.
A week before the 2011 season opener, the Eagles made a somewhat desperate decision, signing free agent guard Kyle DeVan, a former student of Mudd, to start at right guard.
As expected, DeVan was a liability at right guard. I originally thought that the Eagles should have just kept Watkins as the starter and dealt with his early season growing pains but looking back, I think that as bad as DeVan was, Watkins would have been even worse.
DeVan held his own in the season’s first three games but after he allowed a pair of sacks and committed a pair of penalties in a week four loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he was benched for Watkins (and released a few weeks later).
Watkins would start the season’s final 12 games, where he, as expected, played poorly. He did improve as the season went on but his overall rating, according to Pro Football Focus, rates him as the second worst offensive player on the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 (rookie center Jason Kelce was the worst).
It’s difficult to grade Watkins based on his first season.
In his defense, he wasn’t able to work with Mudd during the offseason, which shortened his development. But he also didn’t master the playbook as quickly as the Eagles expected, whether they would admit it or not, and not starting on day one is absolutely unacceptable.
90 percent of offensive linemen start as a rookie, and Watkins’ biggest strength was that he was supposed to be able to play well from day one.
I’d have to give Watkins a check minus for his first season, although that certainly does not mean that he is a bust. As of now though, it’s hard not to think of the guy who warmed the bench for the first four games and played poorly for the next 12.
Give him a full offseason working closely with Howard Mudd and I think it’s safe to say that Watkins will make major strides next season.