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 second entry covers the impact of Florida’s coaches on his career, playing a new position as a senior and the importance of being invited to the 2014 Senior Bowl.
The Senior Bowl is next Saturday, and we are all getting some last minute training in before heading out to Mobile, AL on January 18th. [Editor’s Note: Watkins will be joined in Mobile by guard Jon Halapio and wide receiver Solomon Patton.]
It honestly feels great to be picked for the Senior Bowl. It lets me know I was doing something right during the season and in my career with the Gators. Obviously Coach [Will] Muschamp and T-Rob [defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson] put me in a great position to showcase my skills.
Their football knowledge is beyond levels of college. Being in that defense, the standard they hold you to makes you a better player. That helped me excel. I was able to grasp so much information at once and play so many different positions. Being able to play safety, nickel, corner, it all paid off. If you listen and do what they say, you’ll definitely be a better player because they know what they’re talking about.
A lot of guys didn’t get to go the Senior Bowl last year, but Coach Muschamp told me after the season that I got the call. It was nerve-wracking because I knew I needed that invitation to prove what I can do on another level besides the season.
Before that, I had all the other bowl game invites, but I really wanted to go there because I knew the competition would be up there to where I could really show what I could do. Once I got the invite, it was a big relief – a very, very, very big relief.
Everything is falling into place right now.
A lot of people ask me why I agreed to play safety as a senior. It’s simple. The coaches helped me understand what we needed on defense. We needed someone to make the calls and be a sure head back there.
I was happy to make the move because it helped the team and could also make me improve as a player because my tackling wasn’t as good my junior season. Being back there, I thought, would give me a great chance to improve my tackling, and I got a lot better at it through practice and as the season went on.
I looked at it as I was improving my game, not playing out of position. We had two good corners who could start. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. I was focused on winning and the best chance for us to win was for me to go back to safety.
Speaking of that, I was extremely impressed with Vernon Hargreaves [III]. Everybody asks me about him – he’s one of a kind as far as a true freshman. The stuff he knows, his technique, he’s on a different level than other freshmen that come in. There’s not much to coach. He just on the top of his game already.
Another question that I’ve been asked often is where I expect to be drafted. That is really up in the air right now, especially with so many events and opportunities in front of me over the next few months.
That’s where the Senior Bowl comes into play. If I do what I’m supposed to do at the Senior Bowl, I can go as high as I want to because a lot of the other top cornerbacks that are seniors will be there. I think it’s up in the air. I don’t think there’s a set corner who’s No. 1 right now, so there’s plenty of room for me to get better and move up the boards.
[Editor’s Note: The Senior Bowl airs live Saturday, Jan. 25 at 4:00 p.m. on NFL Network. Watkins will try to check in with OnlyGators.com during practice next week.]