Florida Gators football: Watkins rising up draft boards

He was never a flashy playmaker. He was never named an All-American or to an All-Southeastern Conference team. He played most of his career in the shadow of two highly touted players in Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.

But, perhaps no other player has done more to improve his draft stock in recent months than former Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins.

It started at the Senior Bowl in January. After a week of practices, Watkins came away as one of the big winners of the players in attendance, despite not playing in the game after suffering an Achilles injury. He wowed scouts with his ability in press coverage and showed off some of the versatility that made him arguably the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary this past season.

But it didn’t stop there. Watkins rode that momentum into last week’s NFL Combine. He ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, which tied him for the fifth-best time among cornerbacks. He also did 22 reps on the bench press, which tied him for most among cornerbacks. Meanwhile, his more heralded Gators’ teammates Roberson and Purifoy each struggled. They both posted 4.61 times in the 40-yard dash and combined to post just 14 reps on the bench press (six for Purifoy and eight for Roberson).

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Watkins finished his Florida career with 133 tackles, two interceptions and an impressive 21 pass breakups.  He played safety, cornerback, nickel back and special teams. The former relative unknown was perhaps underappreciated in his time at Florida.

In the past few months, Watkins has gone from the supposed fourth best cornerback on Florida’s roster last season (don’t forget Vernon Hargreaves III), to a likely mid-round pick in this May’s NFL Draft. He will have at least one more chance to impress scouts at Florida’s Pro Day on March 17 in Gainesville.

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