With Watkins, it’s too early to label the offensive lineman a bust, even if he turns 28 in two days. But in his first 18 games, the guard has shown little to suggest he is of Pro Bowl caliber, which is the bar teams often set for interior linemen selected so high.
Adding intrigue to Watkins’ standing is an ankle that Reid called “chronic” Oct. 26 after he missed his first two practices of the season because of the injury. Reid said it was an injury Watkins had for years, one he said he knew about before the draft.
“This will pass here,” Reid said Thursday. “It’s not where it’s going to be career-ending.”
Both of Watkins’ agents were asked if they knew of a chronic ankle.
“First I ever heard of it,” said Joe Panos, a former Eagles offensive lineman.
“I recall Danny had a completely clean medical,” Eric Metz said in an e-mail, “which contributed to so many clubs giving him a first-round grade.”
Watkins declined to answer questions about his ankle, he said Friday, because “coach doesn’t want us talking about injuries.”
Earlier Friday, Reid said that he chose the wrong word — chronic, “marked by long duration or frequent recurrence,” as defined by Webster’s — in describing the ankle. He said that Watkins had a history of ankle injuries — two sprains on each leg while in college.
But Watkins had more than just ankle sprains in college, according to a source within the Baylor University program. He had a broken bone in one of his ankles during his senior season. Watkins hardly practiced during the week, but didn’t miss a game, the source said. The injury went unreported.
The Eagles had no comment on Watkins’ broken bone.
Watkins started in all 25 games during his two years at Baylor University. He played in 22 of 23 games at Butte (Calif.) Junior College. There had never been any mention of his having an ankle injury until Oct. 25, when he sat out practice.
Reid said Watkins first “tweaked” his ankle during the Lions game Oct. 14. He said the guard played with the injury. The Detroit game, in which the Eagles blew a 10-point with five minutes to play, has been cited as a low point for Watkins and the offensive line.
Reid didn’t mention Watkins’ injury after the game or the Monday after, although he isn’t required by the league. The Eagles, after the bye week, didn’t resume practice until Oct. 22. Watkins practiced, according to Reid, although it was a light workout.
He practiced again Oct. 24 but was listed on the injury report with an “ankle,” although he was deemed a full participant. Watkins was then held out the next two days after Reid said the ankle wasn’t feeling right on Oct. 25.
“I really don’t know [what happened], to tell you the truth,” Watkins said Friday. “I can’t start practicing and then we went in and looked at it and they said, ‘Yeah, you [injured] your ankle.’”
Watkins had been listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Falcons and rookie Dennis Kelly started in his place. Kelly will earn his second career start on Monday night in New Orleans. Watkins was listed as out.
Reid was asked Thursday if Watkins would retain his starting position when he returns from injury, but the coach gave an ambiguous answer. “We’ll see how he feels once he gets in there,” he said.
Because Kelly was competent against Atlanta — with the assistance of a game plan that featured quick throws — some have celebrated the possible end of Watkins’ run at right guard. He has struggled. Pro Football Focus ranks him 51st out of the 57 guards in pass-blocking.
But to cheer Watkins’ demise would be missing the big picture — that the Eagles appear to have wasted another first-round pick and are paying the price. A fifth-round rookie like Kelly shouldn’t start ahead of a top pick in his second season.
Watkins was projected by many analysts to be a late- first- to early-second-round pick before the draft. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King predicted Watkins would go the Eagles with the 26th overall selection, which is where the Birds picked him.
But there were obvious concerns. Watkins had played football for only four years, first picking up the game when he attended Butte to study fire sciences. The Eagles also wanted to move him from left tackle to right guard, and to do so while learning Howard Mudd’s new blocking technique.
By the end of last season, Watkins appeared to be progressing. The line was clicking. But then Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles and Jason Kelce tore his ACL, and the entire unit — not just Watkins — became inconsistent.
But the firefighter was supposed to be an anchor. Instead, he’s dragging Reid to the bottom, along with a number of the coach’s dubious draft picks.
If Watkins doesn’t start sometime soon, either because of the injury or a benching, it could be interpreted as Reid’s cutting the Canadian loose to save himself.
Mistakes are orphans, but that would own up to a blunder — whoever’s it is.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.