Preseason football won’t provide massive revelations about schemes, give many glimpses of veteran players, or provide any insight into how the coming campaign will unfold. However, the exhibition slate can sometimes provide a peek at a player who might be ticketed for a more prominent role than once realized.
Diamonds can be found in the rough watch that is preseason football.
Case in point: Philadelphia Eagles receiver Quez Watkins.
“That guy is not a secret anymore,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said after the Eagles’ 24-16 loss Thursday night, per the team’s official transcript.
Watkins took a WR screen-pass, busted angles with his speed, and scampered to the house, going 79 yards for the first-quarter score. The TD came one drive after Hurts and Watkins just missed connecting on what would have been a 98-yard score. Watkins had burned the defense and had a couple of steps, but Hurts, standing in his end zone, overthrew the heave by about half a step.
“I’d like to have a 98-yard touchdown,” Hurts said. “Simple as that. One thing I was thinking about, though, as I walked up here was [Watkins] isn’t a secret anymore. So, that’s unfortunate.”
A 2020 sixth-round pick out of Southern Miss, Watkins played in 13 games as a rookie, compiling just seven catches for 106 yards and a TD. There had been rumblings from Eagles camp that Watkins had flashed and could force his way into more playing time — despite Philly’s use of high draft picks at the position.
“This whole offseason, I just made everything personal,” Watkins said Thursday night. “Everything people said I couldn’t do. ‘I was only fast.’ I just made everything personal and put the work in.”
Watkins might want to be known as more than just a speed guy, but it’s those blazing feet that give him a shot to have an impact in 2021. Thursday night, he made Steelers rookie Tre Norwood look like he was running in sawdust trying to catch up after Watkins’ speed forced the safety to take an atrocious angle.
“That’s not the first time I’ve seen [Watkins] take one of those screens,” Hurts said. “He’s, like, two-for-two on those screens in his career. I think he’s a great player. He knows what I think of him and he could be a really good player for us. This game is no representation of what he’s been doing and the progress he’s made from last year. [From when] we both got here until now.”
Watkins entered training camp battling for positioning on the depth chart. With 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith joining 2020 first-rounder Jalen Reagor, along with Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, and even former second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at the position, Watkins needed a standout summer to earn snaps come September. Thus far, he’s impressed.
“Any time you get a guy that can run like Quez can, that’s obviously a very big threat to the defense. Softens them up,” head coach Nick Sirianni said Thursday night. “We have seen that, right? You guys have been at all the practices. You’ve seen him get behind the defense, make some plays on the ball. That’s what impressive with Quez, he has good strong hands that can go up and make plays. He has that speed and can go up and make plays. So that’s a weapon that we’re hoping to continue to develop.”
The preseason won’t provide massive revelations, but it will hint at who we should give a closer look at in the coming weeks to see if a surprise character has the chance at a bigger, scene-stealing role. Watkins let the football world know Thursday night that he’s worth keeping an eye on.
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