Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Nick Watkins

June 16, 2017
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Player name: Nick Watkins

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 203

Player position: Cornerback

Years of eligibility left: 2

Projected rank on the depth chart:
Starter

Player productivity so far:


2015: 8 tackles 1 PBU

What player does best: It had to be a frustrating experience for Watkins last season. The team struggled and he never had a chance to help them while recovering from an injury he suffered last spring. He lost his first opportunity to be a full-time starter and the team lost 8 games. No one was sure what to expect this spring, but a healthy Watkins established himself as a starter opposite Julian Love.

He looked incredibly impressive physically and can play strong in press. That is when he is at his best where he can use his length and strength to win in tight coverage. Previously we had seen him struggle in contested catch situations, but he won the majority of those when we had a chance to watch him practice.

He has good ball skills. Don’t be fooled by that one career pass breakup because that has to do with lack of opportunity more than anything else. He’s also shown himself to be a solid tackler that can be an asset against the run. It’s a strong duo in that respect with him and Love.

He looked the best he has looked at Notre Dame this spring and his strengths really shined through.

What player needs to work on: When he gets his hands on a receiver, he’s going to do well. When he doesn’t, that is when he can have issues. He’s a good athlete, but not a true speed guy. If a player beats him laterally or gets a step on him vertically, he hasn’t shown a great ability to recover. The jury is out on his makeup speed and if he is matched up a true burner on the outside, then he may struggle.

He’s a better fit lining up against bigger receivers. He needs to be tighter with his footwork in his transitions to break on the ball quicker. His footwork in press also has to be great as well and he got beat for some plays when it wasn’t this spring.

He hasn’t had a ton of game experience. Most of all, he needs reps to improve. In his one extended bit of action against Ohio State, he did well to keep things in front of him, but gave up quite a few catches to Michael Thomas.

Productivity of top players in the nation at his position:

Because Notre Dame hasn’t had a recent cornerback that I think has a similar game to Watkins, I chose to just list other top cornerbacks with similar body types.

Kevin King Washington: 44 tackles 3.5 TFL 13 PBU 2 INT

Teez Tabor Florida: 33 tackles 2 TFL 1 sack 6 PBU 4 INT

Iman Marshall USC: 51 tackles 3 TFL 8 PBU 3 INT

Cordrea Tankersley Clemson: 52 tackles 6 TFL 11 PBU

Gareon Conley Ohio State: 26 tackles 8 PBU 4 INT

What can we hope for? It’s been a long wait for Notre Dame fans to see Watkins get his chance and must feel even longer for him. The former 4 star recruit is going to get his first chance to be a starter in his fourth year.

I think what Irish fans can hope for is a physically dominant corner that shuts down routes before they get a chance to develop. That’s some of what we saw in the spring as well as him making several plays on the ball (including interceptions).

Notre Dame needs ball production and Watkins showed that he has the potential to provide that. If he’s a guy that can match up with big receivers consistently in man coverage, win at the catch point to break up a number of targets thrown his way, and simply provide a steady influence in all facets of the game then that would be tremendous and exactly what Notre Dame’s back end of the defense needs.

What is a realistic expectation? He’s yet another veteran who not only hasn’t started, but hasn’t really played all that much. Blame it on whatever you like, but the reality is that Watkins played very few critical snaps on defense in his first two seasons of eligibility other than when injuries forced him into the lineup in the Fiesta Bowl.

Players gain more confidence with more opportunity. Watkins looked like a confident player in practice, but that’s not on Saturdays and he hasn’t been beat for six points at Notre Dame Stadium yet. I think it’s a realistic expectation for everyone to not get ahead of ourselves and anoint him as a great player in press until we see more of it against opponents this fall.

It’s fair to expect him to be a good player immediately because he is more than ready physically and mentally to compete at a high level. It’s also fair to not know what to expect when adversity hits because we haven’t seen it happen yet with him and that’s a big part of playing corner. How will he deal with adversity on the field? We’ll soon find out.

What about the future? The only good news with Watkins missing last season is that it gave him another year of eligibility. He probably should have redshirted in 2014 given that he didn’t play much and the injury gave him a year back. Now he’ll have this season and 2018 to establish himself as a starter and an NFL prospect.

I think he can be a legit NFL prospect. I might not have said that before the spring, but his physical development shocked me. He looked like a different person and played like one too. There was clear separation between him and the third corner this spring, Donte Vaughn.

He was consistently good every time we saw him and that’s what the Irish need. Consistently good in 2017 could possibly lead to great in 2018. He may be a fourth year player, but his college career is getting a reboot and I’m excited to see where things go with him from here.
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