Eagles' Watkins takes inspiration from his star brother

Posted: May 19, 2014

SAMMY WATKINS III had one main piece of advice for his sons, Sammy Watkins IV and Jaylen Watkins, as they grew up in Fort Myers, Fla.

"If you want to play football, if that's what you want to do as a career, you have to go at it hard," the elder Watkins said yesterday, during a break from his job driving tractor-trailers filled with cases of Gatorade.

This, Watkins knew from experience, having shown promise as a high school running back himself. He said he was highly recruited, but didn't do well on the SAT and ended up at Concord College in West Virginia, where he played a year before dropping out and entering the Army Reserve. Soon after that, he became Jaylen's dad, and began working as a truck driver.

Watkins, now 42, broke up with Jaylen's mom, fathered Sammy by another woman, stayed involved with both boys but didn't live with them; Sammy has had a stepfather most of his life. (Watkins said he has four boys and a girl with his current wife, seven boys and a girl overall.) Sammy and Jaylen grew up in the same neighborhood in Fort Myers, Jaylen older by 6 1/2 months. A week ago Thursday, the Buffalo Bills made Sammy IV, a 6-1, 205-pound wide receiver from Clemson, the fourth player taken in the NFL draft, 2 days before the Eagles made Florida defensive back Jaylen (5-11, 194) the first pick of the fourth round.

"Nobody could ever imagine two kids in the same family" getting drafted into the NFL the same year, the elder Watkins said. "What's the odds of that?"

As a dad, he is less than a neutral observer, but Watkins said he thought Jaylen might go a little sooner, in the second or third round. Jaylen might have been hurt by Florida's hugely disappointing, 4-8 season, which included injuries that dictated his midseason switch from cornerback to safety. The Eagles plan to start him out at corner. He said yesterday he likes their scheme and is very comfortable in press coverage.

Jaylen said that he and Sammy were close growing up, that there was no animosity between the families.

"We spent a lot of time together outside of football. We played against each other in Pop Warner," Jaylen said. "We both played quarterback, so we weren't on the field at the same time. We led our teams different ways. He actually won the game we played against each other. I was more of a scrambler; he was more actually throwing the ball."

Their father recalled that "they were always the best ones on their teams."

Both Watkins boys were highly recruited out of their respective high schools, but at Clemson, Sammy separated himself, becoming the top wide receiver in a deep WR draft group, seemingly a surefire NFL star.

"I really knew he'd be what he is in high school, after watching him play a few times," Jaylen said.

Sammy's road to stardom almost took a detour in May 2012, the end of his freshman year at Clemson, when he was arrested on two counts of drug possession. (He served a community service sentence that summer.)

"When I got in trouble, I went straight home to [Jaylen]," Sammy told Clemson's Daily Orange last year. "He helped me realize what type of person I am and what type of person I was for Clemson and the community."

The half-brothers took to texting each other inspiration on Saturdays, before their respective games.

"They feed off each other," their father said. He added that Jaylen was never jealous as Sammy's stardom grew.

"Jaylen is very supportive of Sammy. I think Sammy's success made Jaylen a little hungrier . . . They always supported each other. It wasn't a competition thing," he said.

Both players are working in NFL rookie camps this week. They haven't had a lot of time to compare notes.

"We talked after the draft," Jaylen said. "I know he's busy now; I'm swamped with a lot of stuff, so I know he is."

Like Florida and Clemson, the Bills and the Eagles play in different conferences. Their schedules don't intersect this season. Their dad will have to make choices.

"Just like in college," he said. "Go see one 1 week, the other the next."

Jaylen hasn't ever covered Sammy in a game, but he has lots of experience trying to stop Jordan Matthews, the 6-3, 212-pound wide receiver from SEC rival Vanderbilt, whom the Eagles drafted in the second round. They also faced off in Senior Bowl practice.

"Very competitive . . . He's strong, he's big; he's definitely a mismatch problem," Watkins said.

"The thing about Jaylen is, he's versatile," Matthews said yesterday. "The thing I remember is just, I never could get away from him. I would go outside, he's sitting there staring me in the face, and then I would go [inside] and he's coming over and he's playing 'one' coverage over top of me."

Matthews joked that the "can't get away from him" feeling intensified when he encountered Watkins at the Senior Bowl, and then "I'm coming to the NFL, he's right here, too . . . He's going to be great, man. Just one of the most versatile DBs in this entire draft class."


The Eagles released veteran wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who was scheduled to make $1 million this year. It seems very possible Benn will return at a lower salary . . . Fifth-round defensive lineman Taylor Hart, who played for Eagles defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon, was asked what makes Azzinaro a good coach. "That he cares," Hart said. "He wants you to be a great man, not only a great football player" . . . Asked about his predraft visit with the Eagles, seventh-round nose tackle Beau Allen said: "I thought it was really, really well organized. Some places I went, it wasn't like that . . . It was a little more formal an interview process than I had with some teams. I sat in a meeting room with the whole defensive staff, and they put on a [film] cutup of me, and they said, 'Explain what you've been taught, and what you're doing' on almost every play . . . It wasn't as relaxed, maybe, as some of the other interviews I went on. It was a little stressful. It was good, though."

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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