Jeremy Werner

In The Film Room: Howard Watkins

Illinois picked up a big commitment Monday evening. To find out just what the Illini are getting, we checked out the film and break it down for you here.

First Impressions:

Watkins has a great frame at 6'4"-6'5" tall and just under 300 pounds.  He carries his weight well and plays at several spots across the offensive line.

Interestingly enough, though, is that his defensive tape is fairly impressive, too.  Illinois has recruited him as an offensive lineman, but quite honestly, he could probably hold his own on defense, too.

Tale of the Tape:

Watkins is rarely seen on film being driven backwards.  He is physical at the point of attack and uses good power when going at defenders.  He will need to improve his technique in order to play with better leverage, but he's quick out of his stance and plays with a mean streak.

His film from the first half of his senior season (below) is helpful for evaluation because he lines up at several different positions along the offensive line, taking the projection work out of it and using the live film at both tackle and guard.  Watkins plays with a wide base, but is a bit of a hip bender, and it causes him to play with a high pad level.  Again, that's something that he will have to work on as far as technique is concerned at the next level.

Watkins shows a consistent ability to get to the second level and engage linebackers.  His overall ability to run block is one of his best attributes.  Conversely, his senior film contains very few plays showing his pass blocking and, in particular, his kick step.  On the passing plays on his film, though, he does do a good job of hedging off the pass rusher and maintaining pocket integrity.  However, he will need to improve his footwork at the college level to be able to take on more capable pass rushers.

How He Fits:

OG commit Larry Boyd, mean streak.  OT commit Vederian Lowe, mean streak.  OG target Joshua Fedd-Jackson, mean streak.  OT target Alex Palczewski, mean streak.  Notice a pattern in the type of linemen Illinois is going after?  Watkins will bring that to this team as well.  Luke Butkus is a fiery coach, and Lovie Smith foundationally wants to pound the rock with his offense.  Gone are the days of finesse zone pass blocking OL playing across the entire offensive front.  Illinois is recruiting nasties now.

Watkins has the advantage of coming in early to get into the strength and conditioning program with the hopes of potentially being game ready by the fall.  Ideally, with most linemen, you try to redshirt them as true freshmen to develop them and mature them prior to playing college football.  However with a strong spring, Watkins, like Larry Boyd, could find himself in the OL rotation early.  Illinois elected to play Darta Lee early at guard, and could choose to do the same with Watkins early in his career, should he progress as hoped.

Austin Schmidt and Joe Spencer, two stalwarts on the offensive line the last four years, have graduated, leaving two spaces open.  Nick Allegretti seems likely to take over center duties, which opens up a guard spot.  There's a strong possibility that Watkins could find himself in the mix with guys like Lee, Jake Cerny, and Kurt Gavin for one of the vacated spots.

See for Yourself:

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