Air Force’s Ryan Watson has flown a jet that tops out at more than 850 mph.
“They took me up in a T-38, which is a trainer plane,” he said after meeting with the Green Bay Packers in a predraft visit early this month. “It was specifically for me to get acclimated with the plane. They let me take over the stick and fly around a bit. I was in California when I did it, so I got to see Cali a little bit. It was unreal. Actually, the instructor who was with me, when we came back to the Air Force Base air space, he started doing tricks. That’s when I learned I didn’t want to be a pilot because he was doing tricks and I threw up like four times. It was rough.”
Fortunately, there’s another profession awaiting Watson: NFL pass rusher.
Watson had nine sacks during his senior season. It wasn’t until he piled up three sacks against Utah State — part of a season-opening four-game stretch in which he led the nation with seven sacks — that the NFL popped up on Watson’s radar.
“Honestly, I was just playing football, having fun and enjoying my senior year, and then my coaches started talking to me,” Watson said. “I never really considered it until after that game. My position coach, Timothy Cross — probably one of the best coaches I’ve had in my life — sat me down and asked if that was something I wanted to do. At first, I was like, ‘Coach, you’re crazy. It’s one good game.’ But as the season progressed, I was like, ‘Hey, I have a shot at this.’ It was kind of crazy, because I was leading the nation in sacks for a little bit. ‘Maybe I can do this.’ That was the big point for me.”
At Air Force, Watson was used mostly as an edge rusher, though he did drop into coverage to man the flats or match running backs on wheel routes, he said. At Air Force’s pro day, Watson (6-2 3/4, 249 pounds), ran his 40 in 4.61 seconds, with a 4.60 in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.12 in the three-cone drill. He put up 23 reps on the bench press; without the 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. rigors of the Air Force Academy, he said he’d use the free time to get “a lot bigger and stronger.”
Once Watson has an NFL home — perhaps in the seventh round but more likely as a free agent — he expects the emotions to kick in.
“Honestly, I’m going to hope not to cry but it would be such a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old. My dad took me to pee wee football as a little kid. If you’ve played football, it’s your dream to play in the NFL. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine it. I can’t imagine the emotions that would course through me, but it would definitely be my greatest dream come true, without a doubt.”
Here are more Packers visits on defense, either learned or confirmed by Packer Report. The Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein also reported Packers visits; he has a somewhat different list so you should check out that story, too. Each team is allotted 30 visits. Here is our story about visits on offense.
Eli Ankou, UCLA (6-4 1/8, 331; 5.21 40; 4.84 shuttle; 31 bench): Ankou was a two-year starter. As a senior, he had 38 tackles, two tackles for losses and one blocked kick. His junior year was his best season, with 1.5 sacks and five TFLs among his 47 stops. He is a native of Ottawa, Canada, and is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the CFL Draft by the CFL Scouting Bureau. As a kid, he played soccer, trained in karate and had a stint with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. “I didn’t even know what a fumble was until the eighth grade.”
Grover Stewart, Albany State (6-4 1/4, 347; 4.75 shuttle; 5.14 40; 30 bench): From a draft perspective, Stewart came out of nowhere following his performance at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game. He was an all-conference performer all four seasons. As a senior, the aptly named “Big Grove” overwhelmed opposing linemen and finished with 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses to earn first-team Division II All-American honors. “He won’t get out of the third round,” one scout predicted. Stewart’s dance card overflowed with requests for visits or on-campus workouts. According to a source close to Stewart, about 25 teams inquired; Stewart was able to accommodate about 20 — including his trip to Green Bay. “I just worked hard and kept eating good … chicken, collard greens, corn bread, you name it,” Stewart told the Albany (Ga.) Herald early last season. That included moving old cars and trees with his father. “I worked on the farms a lot too,” Stewart said. “We always did a lot of work in watermelons.”
Johnathan Calvin, Mississippi State (6-2 7/8, 266; 4.89 40; 4.64 shuttle; 19 bench): After two seasons of junior-college ball, Calvin had 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses as a junior. When MSU moved to the 3-4 in 2016, Calvin moved into the “viper” position, which is something approximating Green Bay’s elephant role. Calvin tallied seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses to earn third-team all-SEC. He led the conference in blocked kicks with two.
Keion Adams, Western Michigan (6-2, 257; 4.70 40; 4.38 shuttle; 27 bench): Adams had seven sacks, 15 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles in his first three seasons but 7.5 sacks, 17 TFLs and three forced fumbles as a senior. He had a busy predraft dance card. "I'm looking at it as a blessing and an opportunity. I'm going and showing teams what kind of a person I am, just going out there and being myself, showing them I want to be part of an organization and showing them the reasons why they should draft me."
Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington( 6-1 7/8, 240; 4.50 40; 4.34 shuttle; 24 bench): Ebukam was a first-team FCS All-American as a senior. One of six co-captains, Ebukam had a team-high 9.5 sacks and contributed 71 tackles, 15 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, eight quarterback hurries, two passes broken up and an interception. Playing as a stand-up rusher, Ebukam finished his career with 24 sacks. Also at his pro day, Ebukam had a vertical jump of 39 inches, a figure beaten only by potential No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett among edge defenders. Ebukam is a speed rusher — something the Packers haven’t shown a lot of interest in over the years. Ebukam was born in Nigeria, where he spent his first nine years with his six siblings. The family made it to the United States a few members at a time over the span of eight years. He got his start in learning English by watching TV. “I love football, and it would be good for my family to get some money, so that the sacrifices they made were worth it.”
Chris Odom, Arkansas State (6-4, 262; 4.83 40; 4.63 shuttle; 20 bench): Odom led the Sun Belt Conference with 12.5 sacks and added 17.5 tackles for losses to earn first-team all-conference as a senior. His sack total was the third-best in school history. Odom was a backup for his first three seasons and recorded four blocks during that span. He is the son of Cliff Odom, who spent most of his 13-year NFL career playing linebacker for the Colts, and he was high school teammates with presumed No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. “I’ve always worked for what I’ve earned. I have to work harder to get the looks that guys at Power Five schools get, and I understand that. Those are just facts. It’s not a bad thing, because along the way that has pushed me to improve to the point where I have a shot.”
Jordan Evans, Oklahoma (6-2 7/8, 232; 4.51 40; 4.18 shuttle): Evans was arguably the biggest Scouting Combine snub, which forced many teams — including Green Bay — to bring him in for a visit. He was our eighth-ranked inside linebacker and could be gone by the end of Day 2. The three-year starter posted 286 tackles, 22 tackles for losses, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and 16 passes defensed for his career. The PBU count is tied for second in school history among linebackers. As a senior, the team captain and first-team all-Big 12 choice had 98 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and 10 for losses, plus four interceptions and eight pass breakups. Of our top 22 inside linebacker prospects, Evans ranked 13th in PFF’s run-stop percentage and 10th in tackling efficiency (12 misses). He had a great pro day was his 40 time ranking No. 1 in the inside linebacker class, his shuttle ranking second and his vertical (38 1/2) ranking third. “You can best believe I was watching other linebackers,” Evans said of the Combine. “I was comparing myself.” At worst, he’ll be the third-down coverage linebacker because of his athleticism, instincts and length.
Jermaine Grace, Miami (6-0 1/8, 223; 4.57 40; 4.37 shuttle; 21 bench): Grace led the Hurricanes with 79 tackles in 2015, which included two sacks and six tackles for losses. However, he and Al-Quadin Muhammad, an edge rusher in this draft class, were kicked off the team on Aug. 27 because of violations of NCAA rules in a luxury car-rental case. He was kept on scholarship and graduated in December.
Eric Wilson (6-1 1/8, 230; 4.53 40; 4.31 shuttle): Wilson opened his career at Northwestern in 2012 and emerged as a starter for his final two seasons at Cincinnati. As a senior, he had a team-high 129 tackles, including three sacks and 7.5 for losses, plus broke up two passes and forced a fumble. Wilson ranked only 15th in run-stop percentage but was second in tackling efficiency (eight misses). That combination shows an efficient if not an impact tackler. In three years at Cincinnati, he recovered seven fumbles and added 25 tackles on special teams. His 39 1/2-inch vertical is the best in the class, his 40 time is the second-fastest and his 25 reps on the bench tied for the third-most.
D.J. Killings, Central Florida: (5-10 1/2, 187; 4.48 40; 4.21 shuttle; 6.97 3-cone; 37.5 vertical): After intercepting two passes in his first three seasons as a part-time player, Killings moved into the starting lineup as a senior grabbed three picks and broke up 11 others while adding one sack and three tackles for losses. According to PFF, he ranked 22nd in yards per pass route (1.15), 13th in passer rating (56.4) and 12th in completion percentage (48.0) in our group of top cornerbacks. Two of Killings’ brothers were murdered, Reginald in 2015 and Fred in 2013. “They were the ones who stayed on me, they were the ones who kept my drive going. They were the ones who when I first got to college said it's your time. I'm the second-to-youngest (of seven kids, all boys) and they messed up their chances to go to college and make it to the league, but they just kept me out of trouble and kept me going. It was a big impact to lose them." His father, Fred Killings Sr., was a Hall of Fame running back at Howard University.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.