Before the start of the 2022 season, Nick Sirianni stood at the front of the NovaCare Complex auditorium and explained to the Eagles the importance of roles.
He spoke to each player, one by one but in front of the entire team, and detailed their roles for the upcoming season.
What did he tell to Quez Watkins?
“Quez’s role was to be able to make timely plays just like he did last year,” Sirianni said. “He had more opportunities when we needed him. Quez had a really good ability of making big plays last year when we needed him, and they were usually explosive ones.
“So that was really — and it was told to him that the pass game runs through A.J. (Brown), the pass game runs through DeVonta (Smith), the pass game runs through Dallas (Goedert), and you’re going to have to take advantage of the opportunities you get. So not everybody is going to like their role, but what you’re trying to do is get everybody to accept their role and be a star at their role because if we’re all stars at our role individually, we’ll be great collectively.”
But at the conclusion of the meeting, Sirianni also explained that these were just their initial roles with the team. Roles can and will change.
With Goedert on IR for at least four weeks, Watkins will likely get more of the target share going forward. And it just so happens that he’s been getting more and more opportunities in recent weeks. Against the Colts on Sunday, he caught a huge 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“When the play was called, I knew I had a good look and I knew I would just be able to make a play,” Watkins said.
Watkins, 24, was a sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi back in 2020 and played sparingly as a rookie. In his second season, he went into the year as the Eagles’ No. 3 receiver but eventually passed Jalen Reagor on the depth chart to be No. 2 behind Smith coming out of 2021.
He remained the Eagles’ No. 2 receiver until April, when they traded for Brown. No one was affected more than Watkins when the Eagles made that trade. Because not only was he dropped from 2 to 3 on the depth chart but Sirianni made it clear that the offense would run through Brown, Smith and Goedert.
Coming into his third NFL season, Watkins knew his opportunities would be limited.
So despite his 43-catch, 647-yard season last year, Watkins’ number are way down in 2022. And that’s not because his talent suddenly evaporated. It’s because they Eagles have other guys to get the ball to and it’s been working. They have one of the best offenses in the NFL.
“I feel like he’s handled it tremendously well,” Brown said. “He works his butt off. Me and Smitty always talk about he’s going to make a huge play whenever nobody looks at him or pays attention to him. He’s going to come in and he’s going to be huge. That just goes with how hard he works day in and day out. I’m proud of him.”
Watkins this season has had exactly 0 receiving yards in 5 of 10 games, which can be tricky. His opportunities have been coming here or there but they certainly haven’t been consistent.
It’s obvious that Watkins — heck, any receiver — would want more targets and more opportunities. But Watkins has been such a team player throughout this season and that’s been extremely impressive to his coaches and teammates.
“I think Quez has been a very diligent player, he’s been a very team-first player, he’s been very selfless,” Jalen Hurts said. “He knows that, I think everybody knows about the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities when they come. Because we have a wide range of people that can make plays and it always looks different.
“I think everybody is always eager to take advantage of their opportunities and I think Quez, along with everybody else, they are guys that are patient with that, they are supportive of the people around them. They support their teammates when they make plays and that’s what you want to have.”
Last week, Watkins caught 2 passes for 31 yards and a touchdown. With Goedert out at least three more weeks, there’s a chance Watkins could see more targets soon.
He’s ready if they come his way.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Watkins said. “I am blessed and highly favored. I’m going to continue to be patient, I’m going to continue to do God’s work. I’m going to keep pushing.”
A key to remember, Sirianni said, is that Watkins is changing the game even when he isn’t catching the football. He ran a 4.33 in the 40 and that pure speed is something defenses need to respect.
The Eagles have three 50+ yard plays this season and Watksin is responsible for two of them.
“I think he’s handled it great,” Sirianni said. “Obviously, Quez is a big-time playmaker that wants to make plays. Just because Quez may not be stuffing the stat sheet, the last couple games have been good as far as his stats, but he still affects the game because of the speed that he has and the big play ability that he brings to this team.”
Watkins also had a big game against the Commanders a couple weeks ago, catching 4 passes for 80 yards. Unfortunately, Watkins fumbled at the tail end of his big 50-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He caught a deep ball and was stripped as he got back up off the ground.
To Watkins’ credit, he didn’t try to make any excuses. He owned his mistake and took full responsibility, saying the team works with the receivers on making sure to secure the ball as they get up from the ground. It was a mistake on his part in a costly part of the game.
But that’s why it meant so much to Watkins that the Eagles didn’t hesitate to go back to him in a crucial moment of Sunday afternoon’s game in Indianapolis.
“It shows that they do have a lot of trust in me, they do have a lot of faith in me,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
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