The Baltimore Ravens could use another offensive playmaker or two on the outside and have been linked to several big-name wide receivers in the early rounds. However, this year’s crop of wide receivers is viewed by many as the deepest and most talented in years. Quality pass-catchers come in all shapes and sizes, hail from FBS and FCS, and can be found throughout mid to late rounds — not just the first two.
One prospect at the position that isn’t getting talked about enough but could prove to be a late day two or day three steal is Austin Watkins Jr. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Watkins Jr. was a junior college transfer from Dodge City Community College and redshirted after four games in 2018. Over the last two seasons, though, he was the top and most potent target in the Blazers’ passing attack.
He broke out as a redshirt junior in 2019 with an incredible season in which he earned second-team All-Conference USA honors by leading the team with career-highs in catches (57), receiving yards (1,092), yards per catch (19.2), and touchdowns (six) in 14 games that included 10 starts. In an abbreviated 2020 season, Watkins Jr. led the team in receptions and yards again with 34 catches for 468 yards and caught the second-most touchdowns with three in seven games.
At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he has good size and plays with physicality at the catch point well as after the catch. Watkins Jr. is a big-bodied X receiver on the boundary that makes contested catches and works the middle of the field.
He’s also the younger cousin of the Ravens’ recently signed veteran wideout Sammy Watkins. Like his kinfolk, he is a strong possession receiver who excels at moving the chains and making plays underneath and at the intermediate level. He can also make big plays downfield as well as the red zone as seen in the clip below.
.@UAB_FB WR Austin Watkins Jr. making a name for himself in front of national ESPN audience and checking all the boxes for the @seniorbowl tonight. We see you @Golden_Ticket6!— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 25, 2020
*NFL body ✅
*Deep ball production ✅
*Red-zone skills ✅ pic.twitter.com/EpNpsmc1X5
Speaking of the Senior Bowl, Watkins Jr. received an invitation to the 2021 All-Star event and both dominated and dazzled during the week of practice with his exceptional route running, strong hands, and ability to separate.
UAB’s Austin Watkins Jr has lived up to the hype this week. He’s a big bodied WR but plays extremely fast and physical. More importantly, he is quick in and out of his cuts. Some AJ Brown in the way he plays #TheDraftStartsInMobile pic.twitter.com/FzxOwREfaA— Chris Mallee (@mallee_chris_24) January 29, 2021
Watkins Jr. could provide Lamar Jackson with a dependable possession receiver with reliable hands. His cousin is already expected to provide that in the starting lineup this fall but he is only under contract for 2021 and has a history of getting hurt and missing a handful of games every year. That means that he would likely get some opportunities to prove himself and potentially even take over that role in year two.
He’s a willing and adequate blocker in the run game but could improve on his technique and hand placement. He would certainly get both corrected rather quickly if he joined a Ravens offense that requires their receivers to run block as often or even sometimes even more than they run routes.
Watkins Jr. doesn’t have dynamic run after the catch ability but has some wiggle to him in space and gets north as quick as he can. He is tough to bring down in the open field, isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder, and would rather fight for extra yards than scoot out of bounds more often than not.
He has good speed, excellent ball skills and is willing to both extend and go up for overthrows as well as corral underthrown balls before they hit the turf. He is the type of receiver that is often open even when he appears covered because of his ability to gain separation at the top of his routes.
Watkins Jr. regularly puts himself in a better position to make the catch than the defender is to make a play on the ball whether that requires him to climb the ladder to catch over someone or make a great last-second adjustment to reel in the pass.
His rare blend of size, speed, athleticism, and key intangibles should make him an appealing option for any and every team with a need at wide receiver but especially the Ravens.
NFL Network analyst and former NFL wideout, James Jones, went as far as to compare Watkins’ playing style to that of Ravens franchise legend and future Hall of Famer Anquan Boldin.
The front office has been on the hunt for the next Boldin since they traded him away following the magical 2012 Superbowl run in which he was among the key contributors, especially in the playoffs.
The fact that Watkins Jr. is expected to come off the board no earlier than the late third but more realistically some time in mid to later rounds would make him just the kind of day three gem that would make General Manager Eric DeCosta look like even more of a genius for coveting compensatory picks.