If teams are looking for the most underrated and exciting wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, Austin Watkins Jr., out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, can make a strong case.
Watkins, a big prospect with a ton of size and speed, spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about how the pre-draft process is going for him, the art behind playing the wide receiver position, what advice his cousin Sammy Watkins gave him, and why an NFL team should use one of their draft picks on him.
JM: How are you finding this overall process so far?
AW: The process is going well for me. I’ve learned a lot over the past few months. It’s all new to me, but I’m very happy with how things are going so far.
JM: You’ve been a busy guy over the past few months. What was your experience at the Senior Bowl like?
AW: The Senior Bowl was a lot of fun. It was great for me to get an opportunity to be around some Power Five guys. I wanted to prove to everybody that I can compete against the best of the best. I also enjoyed getting coached by NFL coaches. It was a great experience.
JM: It was big for you to prove to NFL teams that you could compete against Power Five cornerbacks.
AW: I feel like I showed every NFL team that I’m capable of doing to them exactly what I did to the cornerbacks in my conference. I proved that I could hang at that level.
JM: That’s exactly what you did. How do you reflect on your time at UAB?
AW: I look back on it and say that I loved my time at UAB. I still talk to everybody on the coaching staff. The head coach [Bill Clark] and offensive coordinator [Bryant Vincent], those guys are like family to me. I treat them like a father or uncle. It’s all love between us. I loved playing for those guys. I love what we achieved there throughout the years. We’re always gonna be one big family.
JM: We love hearing that. When I turn the tape on, I see a receiver that pairs vertical speed with excellent ball skills. How did you develop those aspects of your game?
AW: Catching the ball has always been my best asset. It’s been that way since I was a little kid. I’ve always had a natural feel for catching the ball. One-handed, two-handed, it doesn’t matter—I’ve always done it. I practice those abilities every single day. I’m not afraid to put in the extra hours. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in trying to be the hardest working guy in the building. Hard work is a must.
JM: You’re very physical at the line of scrimmage and at the catch point as well. Where does that mindset come from?
AW: I’ve always played aggressive. Watkins is my cousin. He always told me to play aggressively. He taught me that. He said, “I don’t care what you’re doing, just make sure you play the game aggressively.” I took that advice to heart. I’m a physical blocker too.
JM: That’s some great advice from a dynamic NFL veteran. Do you have a favorite route to run?
AW: I love a good comeback route. I enjoy watching the DB continue to run while I shut it down and come back to the ball (laughs). It’s a great route to create a ton of separation on.
JM: You have terrific size. What are some of the ways you use that to your advantage?
AW: I’m a bigger guy. A lot of times, defensive backs see me and think I’m going to be way too aggressive with them. They don’t think I’m fast. I’m a big guy, but I can move like a small guy. I manipulate defensive backs in coverage. They think I’m always gonna run straight at them. They don’t realize I can give them a juke move. I can end a route on a dime. It doesn’t always end how they think it will. I can get in and out of my breaks smoothly.
I can fake them out and get wide open. They always expect me to run right at them in a straight line. I can fool a defensive back on any given route. I love playing with their minds.
JM: We saw it on tape. You must be excited for your Pro Day on April 9. I feel like you’re going to put up some big numbers for your size. Have you run through any mock drills?
AW: We haven’t run a mock 40 yet. I’m putting in work, though. I’ll say this, my coaches and trainers are very excited about what they’re seeing from me. They think I’m gonna surprise a lot of people. I can’t wait for April 9.
JM: We can’t wait to see what sort of numbers you put up. You’ve been meeting with teams virtually over the past couple of weeks. How’s that process going for you so far?
AW: I met with all 32 teams in person at the Senior Bowl. That was a great experience. Since then, I’ve met virtually with another solid handful of teams, but I have to keep the list private at this time. It’s great to know that teams are interested in me.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. If you could catch a pass from any NFL quarterback, who would you choose and why?
AW: I’d have to go with Lamar Jackson or Cam Newton. Jackson is my favorite QB in the NFL. Newton, I’d love to give him a big body target on the outside that can come down with the ball.
JM: I love that. What’s your favorite part of playing the WR position?
AW: I just love catching the ball and making plays. The reason I play the wide receiver position is because I fell in love with catching the ball as a kid. I never looked back. It’s a great feeling.
JM: That’s a fair reason. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, why should a team use one of their draft picks on Austin Watkins Jr.?
AW: When you draft me, you’re getting a player that is ready to be a professional. I already conduct myself like a pro. I’m ready to put in work and do my job at a high level. I just wanna be a great teammate at the end of the day.