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2021 NFL Draft: Introducing Austin Watkins, Jr., UAB’s explosive wide receiver

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NCAA Football: New Orleans Bowl-Appalachian State vs UAB Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for the most underrated and exciting wide receiver in college football, UAB’s Austin Watkins, Jr. can give you a strong case.

One of the top receiver prospects eligible for the 2021 NFL draft, Watkins recently spoke exclusively with MCM about why he wasn’t satisfied with his breakout season, his football bloodlines, and why he thinks JUCO is more difficult than D-1.

JM: You had such a big season in 2019. You finished the year with 57 catches, 1,092 yards and six touchdowns. You broke a few school records and came close to breaking a few others as well. Expectations are high for you in 2020. How are you working to ensure you meet those expectations?

AWJR: I’m just working hard. I have this thing I live by, I try to get 1% better every day. I really don’t worry about my personal stats or the outside noise. I’m really just worried about becoming a better player. I’m worried about learning to do more things as a receiver. I’m not worried about the stats. I’m just trying to get better.

JM: Did you expect to have a breakout season in 2019?

AWJR: Yeah, I definitely did. I put in the work for it. I was expecting more to be honest with you. I feel like I came up a little short last season. I have another chance here in 2020 to prove myself.

JM: You’re being hard on yourself. How would you describe the way you play the wide receiver position?

AWJR: I’m an explosive play-maker. I’m a very consistent player. I also believe I’m a versatile receiver. I’m a big receiver, but I can do things a smaller receiver can do.

JM: What can you tell me about the scheme UAB runs on offense?

AWJR: We’re a very balanced offense. We have an All-American running back. We have another excellent running back behind him. We have a strong running game nowadays. We have multiple receivers that can hurt you. We can feed our running backs, or attack you down-field. It’s a very balanced offense.

JM: That’s great. Do you have a favorite route to run?

AWJR: I really enjoy running a go route. I also love running a good dig route. I’m so explosive with the ball in my hands. When I get past the defender on a go route, it’s over. I enjoy the dig route because there’s multiple ways to run it. I can always win with a dig route.

JM: I want to give you two scenarios. Do you prefer a 75-yard touchdown catch, or making five or six grabs on a long drive that still results in a TD grab for you?

AWJR: I’d probably have to go with the long touchdown grab. I’m trying to make a few more of those this year than I did last year. I’m just trying to make bigger plays and diversify my portfolio. I’m trying to make a big catch and take it to the house. Sometimes, a drive calls for me to make six catches. Those long drives are fun as well, don’t get me wrong. Both of those scenarios work for me.

JM: You’re a bigger receiver, but you can do some special things with the ball in your hands. You mentioned your ability to play like a smaller receiver. Do you attack a smaller cornerback any differently than you do a bigger, more physical one?

AWJR: It just depends on the corner. Sometimes you get a bigger cornerback that’s very technical. Sometimes you get a smaller corner that’s the most physical defensive back on the field. The type of opponent really dictates how I approach them. It’s not always about their size. If I get a small, physical corner, I’ll be physical with him as well. I’ll find a way to use that to my advantage. I’m gonna’ finesse them in a way.

JM: I love that answer. If you could catch a pass from one NFL quarterback, who would you pick and why?

AWJR: Drew Brees would be my first choice so I could play alongside Michael Thomas. That’s a receiver that I really look up to. That would be a cool opportunity for me.

JM: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a cousin of yours. What’s the best advice he’s given you as you continue to chase a career at the next level?

AWJR: He always tells me to keep working. When we train together, he told me I was good but I had to keep working at my craft. He wants to make sure I keep that same drive about me. He told me that you have to be your own man in the NFL. You have to be motivated to workout on your own. He appreciated my work ethic. He just told me to keep that same work ethic about me if I make it to the next level. I appreciate him for that.

JM: That’s a great piece of advice. Who’s the best cornerback you’ve gone up against up until this point?

AWJR: I think back to my JUCO days. I actually went up against Mike Hughes when we were both at JUCO. He’s with the Minnesota Vikings now. He was a good one.

JM: He’s a good one. What was your transition like from JUCO to UAB?

AWJR: It really wasn’t that difficult. To be honest with you, sometimes I think JUCO was tougher. It’s way harder than D-I because a JUCO player has so much to prove. Everybody at JUCO is going 100% all the time. You come across some lazy folks at D-I. They think they already made it. JUCO is more competitive. You always have to fight for your job there. It’s just different.

JM: Jim Nagy, The Director of the Senior Bowl recently mentioned you as being on the 2021 watch-list. What would an invite to the event mean to you?

AWJR: That would be huge for me. It would be a dream come true. I saw him mention me on there. That was crazy. That was the first thing I saw when I woke up that day. I didn’t expect that at all. It just makes me wanna go harder.

JM: We hope to see you down there. In closing, what can UAB fans expect from Austin Watkins, Jr. this season?

AWJR: They can expect UAB to win a championship this year.