Each player had a full offseason to work with his position coach. There were no holdouts. Multiple stars received offseason contract extensions. There are no free agent acquisitions looking for a one-year stint to improve their career. Even the incompetent defensive coordinator has had an offseason–his first, actually–to learn the x’s and o’s of coaching an NFL defense.
The purpose of this upcoming series is to rank the ten most players to the 2012 Eagles. These players were chosen for a number of reasons. Obviously they are all talented starters. But it’s also worth looking at the backup. If this player goes down for the year in week three, who will step up and perform?
As all of my lists go, this one will begin at the bottom and work its way to the top.
10. Danny Watkins, Right Guard
The first, or should I say last, player on this list is Danny Watkins, the starting right guard for the Eagles.
Watkins was drafted last April to fill a huge hole at right guard. The Eagles used Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole at right guard in 2010, which was about as effective as playing with a four-man offensive line.
Head coach Andy Reid, a former college offensive lineman himself, specifically selected Watkins because he was 26 years old and would likely be able to step right into the starting offensive line without the struggles that frequently occur with rookie first round offensive linemen.
Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from what actually happened.
Watkins held out for a bigger contract at the beginning of training camp, missing invaluable time with new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. When he did join the Eagles, it became clear that he was immediately in over his head.
The Eagles tried to work through Watkins’ growing pains, but after they lasted all of training camp and the preseason, the Eagles realized that a drastic move had to be made.
They picked veteran guard Kyle DeVan up from the waiver wire, and the former produce of Mudd started the season’s first four games before the Eagles decided that he had played so poorly that it was Watkins’ turn.
Watkins started the season’s final 12 games, and although he improved as the season went on, he failed to make the strides the Eagles had expected from their first overall pick.
According to Pro Football Focus, Watkins rated as the 50th guard in the league, out of 78 qualifiers. He also ranked as the second worst offensive player on the Eagles, and it didn’t help him escape criticism when the Eagles’ other guard, the veteran Evan Mathis, turned in an incredible season that rated him as the top guard in the league. Imagine that. Watkins, the first round draft pick, rated as the second worst offensive player on the team, while Mathis, a veteran who was only signed as insurance, became a star.
This season, there are no excuses for Watkins. He needs to show the Eagles that he was worthy of a first round pick.
I have bigger expectations for Watkins this season than Mathis, which is why you will not see Mathis appear in this top ten list. I think Mathis will take a step back this season (how couldn’t he?), plus I wonder how much of his phenomenal season was the result of left tackle Jason Peters, who turned in arguably one of the greatest seasons by a left tackle in the history of the NFL. Peters, as we all know, will likely miss the entire season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
That makes Watkins crucial to the Eagles’ success this season. He’s starting all year, no matter how poorly he plays, because the Eagles lack solid depth at the guard position. With roster cuts about 42 hours away, it’s still not clear who will be the backups at the guard spot for the Eagles. The team may end up signing a player from another team.
Here’s a good quote from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, which makes me extremely confident on a solid year from Watkins:
“He’s so far ahead of where he was last year, there is no comparison. Again, all of our players right now and even the veterans, we have an awful lot of work to accomplish before we are ready to go before our regular season game. He’s right there and is getting better every day still. I would suspect that he is going to be one of the fine guards in this game. So there is a progression to that. I would expect him to continue to learn in the next two-three years even before he hits his peak. He’s playing at a high level.”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Watkins will turn in a Shawn Andrews or Evan Mathis year in 2012, but I expect him to rate as an above average guard, according to PFF, while helping to protect quarterback Michael Vick, hopefully for all 16 games.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.