Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.
Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.
His first entry covers the conclusion of the 2013 season, choosing an agent and kicking off his training in South Florida. Watkins will be back with a second entry on Wednesday.
This year was hard. There’s no other way to put it. Coming off an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl appearance, we had such high expectations this year with everyone playing so well last season. Coming into my senior season, you want to improve as a player – I think I did that – but you also want your team to go further than it did the year before. But that’s the game of football.
Injuries definitely took a toll on all of us. Each week we saw guys we care a lot about go down; sometimes twice in the same week. That’s when the next guy, the younger guys, are supposed to step up and play. It’s one thing to ask a couple guys to step up, but it got to the point where most of the players on the field at the end of the season were guys that did not start at the beginning of the year.
As much as 2013 was tough for everyone, it will be good for the team next year. A lot of guys will have a bunch of experience. A lot of young guys got meaningful playing time. Every year it happens to one team; one team gets decimated by injuries. And the next year they have a bunch of guys that played meaningful snaps the year before step up, and they have a great season.
It was tough to move on from the season but I did…until the bowl games started and then it bothered me that we weren’t practicing and playing. It motivated me to get back out on the field for training. It’s nice to have one last chance to play a bowl game, senior game, all-star game to prove myself as a college player before going to the NFL.
Obviously my brother [Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins] and I are pretty close, so I got to watch him play in the Orange Bowl. Even though the game was close to where I’m training, I was not able to go because I had to stay and work out. But I talked to him before and after the game; obviously I was proud of how he played [Orange Bowl-record 227 yards, two touchdowns].
Before I came down to South Florida to train, I had to choose an agent. It only took me probably three days after the season. Josh Evans and I are very close. I met my agent [Tom Santanello] through Josh after I saw the way he handled his process and Jordan [Reed]’s process. And obviously he signed [Dominique] Easley. For a guy to sign Easley coming off an ACL injury, that says a lot about him.
When he met with my mom and talked with me, it was somewhere I felt I wanted to go. I didn’t want to sign with a bigger agency. I’m not the type of guy that wants to be in that big spotlight. The fact that he was a smaller agent coming up, plus I liked the way he was talking, made it an easy decision.
I’ve been training over the last few weeks at XPE Sports with Tony Villani. He’s the same guy that trained Josh Evans and Matt Elam last year. Also with me are Solomon Patton, Marcus Roberson got here this week, and Easley, but he’s mostly doing rehab and treatment right now.
I was a little surprised when I heard about Roberson declaring because I thought if he was going to it would have been at the end of the season. But he feels like he did the right thing. He spent time talking with the coaches and his parents. He’s sure about his decision because he took the time to think, and I’m happy to be training with him.
Some other guys training with us are Clemson [quarterback] Tajh Boyd and receiver Martavis Bryant, Yawin Smallwood the linebacker from UConn and safety Calvin Pryor from Louisville. There should be a bunch more joining after the all-star games.
I’ve been working on my footwork, speed, hip flexors, a lot of the things you can’t worry about during the season. I’ve been starting to take care of my body. There’s a lot of ways you can develop yourself off the field, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now.
There is still plenty more to come from me, so be sure to stick around. I’ll have a second post coming during the week as I prepare to hit the road for the Senior Bowl.
I just want say, at the beginning of this series, thank you to all of the fans for their support over the past four years and through this process. A lot of guys could have come through Florida, but I was lucky enough to get a scholarship and play in The Swamp. Everybody that embraced me, cheered for me, rooted for the Gators – I hope you are able to follow along and keep rooting for me as we go through the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine and Pro Day and everything else from now until the NFL Draft!