Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at CB Jaylen Watkins.
35 tackles, 3 INTs, 8 pass breakups
Role in 2012: Watkins was in a competition with Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Cody Riggs to win a starting cornerback job. Watkins ended up starting 10 games and was second on the team in pass breakups.
The good: Watkins is one of the Gators’ most improved players. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, which he said was because he had a better understanding of the defense in his second season. The best example is his interception against Kentucky when he jumped the route. He admitted he wouldn’t have made the play last year. Watkins doesn’t have the size of UF’s other corners (6-foot, 187 pounds), but he’s able to hold his own against bigger receivers.
The bad: Sometimes his size is a disadvantage, especially when it comes to jump balls. He compensates by relying on technique, but sometimes he can get overpowered by bigger receivers despite being in the proper position. He’s also not as physical in run support as Purifoy, although he is a better tackler than Roberson.
Crystal ball: Watkins will again have to battle Roberson and Purifoy for a starting spot in 2013, but even if he loses out to those two he’ll be on the field as a nickel back. Watkins also has spent some time at safety, and he could find a home there if youngsters Jabari Gorman, Brian Poole and Valdez Showers aren’t up to replacing Josh Evans and Matt Elam (provided he leaves early for the NFL as expected).