Irish A-to-Z: Nick Watkins

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After a freshman season swimming in the proverbial deep end, cornerback Nick Watkins enters his sophomore season with a better understanding of Brian VanGorder’s defense. And he better. Because with KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke in front of him, Watkins’ path to the field is just as tough as it was in 2014.

The talented Texas native has never been short of physical gifts. And with a depth chart infused by competitive freshmen like Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman, Watkins may have passed veteran Devin Butler in the depth chart, but faces challengers at every level in a secondary that must be better than last year’s edition.

Let’s take a look at what Watkins can bring to the Irish this season.

 

NICK WATKINS
6’0.5″, 200 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 21, CB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Watkins was a four-star, Top 200 recruit by every service. But he was likely underrated (if you look at his offer list), mostly because he stayed away from the summer camp circuit.

Watkins had perhaps the most impressive offer sheet in his recruiting class, picking Notre Dame over Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Texas, USC and UCLA. Brian Kelly compared landing Watkins to “getting a No. 1 draft pick” on Signing Day.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, making most of his appearances on special teams. Didn’t register any statistics.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He beat out Atkinson and Brown, but the Irish played Devin Butler over Watkins last season. That isn’t likely to be the case this year.

While we heard about the good camp Josh Atkinson had, expect Watkins to make it into the mix before Atkinson or Jalen Brown. With Cody Riggs having the versatility to slide inside and cover slot receivers, Watkins could work into a rotation on the outside with Cole Luke and Devin Butler.

There doesn’t seem to be much room to hide in VanGorder’s scheme, so there could be some growing pains — not just for Watkins, but for all the cornerbacks. But make no mistake, Watkins is a key part of the Irish’s future in the secondary, and he’s still got a very good chance of helping out now as well.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Physically, there’s everything to like about Watkins, who can learn quite a bit from KeiVarae Russell this season. That’s the type of player Watkins needs to force himself to be, and he certainly has the tools to do so.

If competition is what brings the best out in players than the push from some talented young freshman is a very good thing. Watkins has the length to be an outside player, something Crawford doesn’t possess.

Realistically, 2016 is when you’d expect Watkins to make his move into the starting lineup, paired with Luke as another veteran, talented duo. But if he’s going to be ready to do that, he’ll need to make progress this season, even if it’s mostly on the practice field and in nickel or dime situations.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Right now, Watkins is the third cornerback in a defense with a high-ceiling starting pair. I can’t think of a Notre Dame defense that hasn’t relied on their third cornerback, and think back to when we all worried how the Irish were going to get Darrin Walls, Gary Gray and Robert Blanton onto the field. It’ll work itself out.

So Watkins will get the reps this season. Or at least the first shot at the reps, with Devin Butler and a trio of freshmen all right behind him. And if he’s going to stay on the field, he’ll need to fully embrace the mental side of the game. I expect Watkins to make major progress here, especially after the harsh realization that elite physical tools may make it easy to lock down receivers in high school, but in VanGorder’s system, knowledge is almost more important.

Watkins is still every bit the prospect he was when he signed with the Irish. After a freshman season spent on special teams, he’ll be asked to take on more as a sophomore.

While he’s a key piece of the Irish future, Watkins can help Notre Dame win this year as well.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL
CJ Sanders, WR
Joe Schmidt, LB
Avery Sebastian, S
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, LB
Durham Smythe, TE
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
Ronnie Stanley, LT
Elijah Taylor, DL
Brandon Tiassum, DL
Jerry Tillery, DL
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
John Turner, S