by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Name: Keith Watkins
School: Cincinnati Moeller (OH)
Star rating: 3
Other offers: Akron, Boston College, Cincinnati, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia
The Scouting Report:
Watkins will be treated as a cornerback, at least initially, so don't read into the comment about how he could stay on offense — the only player in the class that we know has the option of choosing defensive back or running back is Godwin Igwebuike. However, here's a look at an excerpt from Scout.com that calls Watkins one of the top "risers" in Ohio for the class of 2013:
"An early pledge to Northwestern, Watkins was the key to Moeller’s offensive on their way to a state championship posting 2,146 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. Add in another 42 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns and you can see why the Wildcats coaching staff may have a hard time placing Watkins on defense."
What he's saying:
An interesting perspective from Watkins on why he's playing defensive back in college, from Scout.com:
“I committed to Northwestern today as a defensive back,” said Watkins. “I feel Northwestern is a great fit for me because if I’m going to try and make it to the next level, defensive back is the right position for me.
“No matter what conference I would have gone, at running back you are going to get dinged up on every play by linebackers and such. Plus right now corners and safeties are going high in the draft. So that is one of the main reasons I wanted to move to defensive back.”
What's the hype?
Obviously, Watkins' numbers as a running back speak for themselves. He's versatile as a pass catcher and as a runner, but it's also easy to see why NU and others like him at defensive back. He's very quick, very shifty, has good reaction time and has soft hands. You can see some of those qualities pretty clearly on his highlight tape, and while he might take some time to get used to being a full-time corner, he looks well-fit to play the position.
Over the past few years, Northwestern has recruited the best athletes it can find without much regard to their high school position. Pat Fitzgerald isn't too concerned with switching positions — it happens a lot on his teams — and NU seems to go by this philosophy: if you get a good athlete, you can teach him to play any position that fits his skill set. After all you can teach fundamentals, but you can't teach athleticism.
Watkins fits into that category quite well. He's very athletic and improved his recruiting stock a lot after his commitment to Northwestern. Plus, this is a kid who plans on playing on Sundays, and he has the potential to fulfill that dream. When you get that kind of player, it's a good thing no matter what position he plays.
What about this year?
It's obviously tough for any freshman to see the field right away, especially one who just changed positions. The only true freshman to start this season was superback Dan Vitale, and that's because NU had very few options at superback. I wouldn't expect a freshman to start at cornerback opposite Nick VanHoose — Daniel Jones and C.J. Bryant look like the early frontrunners for that job — but one could certainly get into the mix for playing time. The Wildcats don't have much experience at cornerback, so Watkins, Matt Harris or Marcus McShepard could see the field.
Among that group, Watkins is the most highly-touted recruit, and he may have the most raw athleticism. However, Harris is a solid under-the-radar player and McShepard was a true corner in high school. Watkins will also have to compete with up-and-coming redshirt freshman Dwight White. Odds are he sees the field this year, but probably not in a starting role — at least not right away.
What about the future?
Watkins has plenty of raw athletic ability, which shows good promise that he'll get his chances to play sooner rather than later, as long as he can pick up cornerback as well as he and his coaches think he can. While he may not start this season, he'll be in contention for a starting spot for his sophomore year. Simply put, Watkins is one of the top recruits in NU's class this season, so it has big plans for him in the future.