How Watkins went from backup to budding star


Quez Watkins started training camp out as a second-year sixth-round pick with seven career catches and nothing guaranteed.

A month later, he looks like a budding star.

If you had to pick one Eagle who made the biggest strides over the last four weeks of training camp, it’s Watkins, the 23-year-old wide receiver from Southern Mississippi.

He’s gone from just a fast guy to a versatile, explosive, confident kid who Jalen Hurts loves throwing the football to.

And you can see why.

History is full of training camp phenom WRs who couldn’t carry it over to the regular season, so it’s too early to anoint Watkins as anything more than another promising young player. But it’s been impossible to watch camp every day without getting excited about the leaping catches, blazing speed and organic connection he has with Hurts.

Watkins is a quiet kid and like most of the Eagles’ young players he’s humble, hungry and focused only on improving.

“Every day my confidence is growing, being with the guys and watching film and just getting better every day,” Watkins said. “Put my head down and working every day. No excuses. No nothing. Just work. That’s all it is.”

The only certainty when camp began was that the two first-round picks — DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor — weren’t going anywhere and veteran slot Greg Ward would almost certainly be in the mix. 

Everybody else was fighting for playing time and roster spots, a group that included Watkins, Travis Fulgham, John Hightower and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

It didn’t take long before Smith, Reagor and Watkins emerged as the Big 3.

“All three are big-time playmakers,” corner Avonte Maddox said. “Fast, can catch the ball well and they’re taking steps every day. They’re growing, they’re learning, like myself, and it’s good to see. I’m excited to see them play.”

What sets Watkins apart is that he was a sixth-round pick, he hasn’t had anything handed to him and he's kept that long-shot mentality even as he’s secured a roster spot.

“I still got to earn my way,” he said. “Every day is an interview, and I keep stacking my days.”

The most interesting thing about Watkins’ development is that he’s expanded his game to the point where the coaches are now comfortable putting him in the slot, which allows them to get their three best receivers on the field and gives the Eagles tremendous speed across the board.

For a young speed receiver to polish his game to the point where he can flourish in the slot is rare.

“I learn how to play small ball when I come to the slot,” he said. “On the outside, I have to become big and use my speed as well. In the slot, I learn how to be shifty.”

When Watkins practices in the slot, it’s usually Maddox who covers him.

“When I get Quez in there, he’s a speed demon,” Maddox said. “He was always super fast, and then in the offseason he was working out at his place and I’m just like, I watch one clip, ‘What the [heck].’ I said, ‘Man you running, huh?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m coming for you this year.’ I said I see you. Then when he got out here, it's shown. 

“He’s been working really hard in the offseason and it’s showing on the field. He’s blazing now. He’s making big catches and grabs and I’m excited to see what he does this year. It’s going to be fun.”

Ward is a conventional slot, and a good one, and he’ll still have a role in the offense. Watkins just gives the Eagles a dimension of speed and explosion you rarely see inside. It’s a potential matchup nightmare.

“Usually, in the slot they’re not really that type,” Maddox said. “He’s got size too. He’s not no small guy like 5-9, 5-10. He’s over 6-foot. You really don’t see that much in the slot. I’m not going to compare him to anybody. I’m just going to compare him to Quez. He's himself.”

Watkins said whether he lines up at the X, the Z or the slot, he carries the same mentality with him when the ball comes his way.

“It’s who wants the ball more,” he said. “That’s really the main thing. And I always want the ball more than anybody, regardless of who it is. I want it. It’s my ball, so I’m going to go get it.”

Watkins grew up in Athens, Alabama, just south of the Tennessee border. Population 25,922. He said growing up in tiny Athens helped shape who is now.

“I put a whole bunch of pressure on myself,” he said. “Coming where I come from, it’s a very small city, not a lot of opportunities. For me to have this opportunity, it’s great.”

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