Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor combine showings or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
5-foot-11, 205 pounds
Key stat: Watts was the only FBS player in 2017 with at least 9.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two blocked kicks, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble.
The skinny: Top-200 high-school recruit stayed close to home to play for the Aggies, and it paid off in a starting job at free safety as a true freshman. He actually led the team in picks his first year in 2014 and started for the remainder of his career in College Station, forming a great duo with Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 second-round pick Justin Evans.
Watts missed four games his junior season with a leg injury but still started nine games and was productive, and he considered leaving early for the NFL draft before returning for his senior season. In 2017, Watts started 12 games (missing the bowl game) and racked up 87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He was also the only FBS player at the end of 2017 with more than 300 career tackles, 10 interceptions and five forced fumbles.
Watts skipped the Aggies bowl game with an undisclosed injury but participated fully at the Senior Bowl. He opted not to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine but is expected to do that at the A&M pro day on March 27.
Upside: Highly athletic. Plays faster than he tested. Good reactionary skills. Times up hits on receivers well. Willing to stick his nose in the trash despite lacking great size. Stays with plays — chased down UT’s Alvin Kamara more than 50 yards down the field and stripped him of the ball inside the Aggies’ 10-yard line.
Playmaker — just has a knack for finding the ball. Career totals of 10 interceptions, 23.5 tackles for loss, 28 passes defended, five forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered and two blocked kicks. Sniper’s mentality when it comes to making picks. Had a 20-tackle game as a sophomore. Also has a clutch gene — made key goal-line strip vs. Arkansas in 2016 and had game-sealing end-zone INTs in overtime vs. Tennessee (in 2016) and Arkansas (in 2017). Here’s the Arkansas INT:
Has lined up deep, close to the line and as a nickel defender. Aggressive, high-energy tone setter. Well liked by teammates. Brings infectious spirit in his play.
Downside: Small hands, short arms and undersized frame could prevent him from spending much time in the box. Has missed three different stints with injuries over the past four seasons. Testing numbers at NFL combine were well below what was expected, and he had an up-and-down Senior Bowl week. Struggled a bit covering Penn State’s Mike Gisecki at the Senior Bowl and could always have issues defending taller, more athletic tight ends.
Tackling has been an issue. Doesn’t wrap up well enough consistently or tries to lead with a shoulder and glances off ball carriers. Gambler who can guess wrong. Takes suspect angles and doesn’t have the elite traits to make up for it. Will play out of control at times. Here Watts can’t bring down Kamara as the last line of defense in 2016:
There’s also some question about his straight-line speed among scouts, who hope to get a verified 40-yard dash time from him at his pro day.
Best-suited destination: Ideally, Watts would go to a team that has a box safety in place where he can vie for a starting (or nickel) role early in his career while he works on cleaning up his tackling technique. Teams such as the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Washington make some sense.
Quotable: “The tackling can be fixed. You’re looking for ballhawks. That’s what he is. He makes game-changing plays. He might not run fast [in the 40], but I think he can be an above-average free safety in this league.” — AFC college scout based in Texas
Player comp: Reggie Nelson
Expected draft range: Round 2-3