The Chiefs were on the clock with pick 124 and Brett Veach was all like... pic.twitter.com/KRHwxXkMjj— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t seem to expect that Armani Watts would be available at pick 124 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Sure enough though, there he was, ready to be thrown into the mix at safety in Kansas City.
Why was he available so late? There is likely a variety of reasons. One could be athletic testing.
Look at these two players:
Broad Jump - 9 feet 11 inches
3-cone drill - 6.64 seconds
20 yard shuttle - 4.07 seconds
Broad jump - 10 feet
3-cone drill - 7.25 second
20 yard shuttle - 4.37 second
Both these players are members of the Chiefs’ 2018 draft class. The first one is the twitchy 223-pound linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. The second player is Armani Watts.
The report is that Watts bulked up for the combine, weighing in at 202 pounds, about 10 to 15 pounds more than he reportedly played at. The result was the worst 3-cone drill in the entire defensive back group in Indianapolis. While the decision to test heavier might have been a mistake, I would be surprised if the results would have been remarkably different had he came in 10 pounds lighter. He doesn’t look nearly as twitchy as other 190-pound players. And that’s OK. Athleticism isn’t what makes Watts good. It’s very likely that part of the reason Watts went on day three has to do with the below average athletic profile.
That’s not to say he isn’t a good football player. He certainly is and shows the ability to potentially start in this league. He hangs his hat on instincts and preparation. He needs to improve his tackling and work to continue to develop athletically.
Let’s look at two plays that best exemplify the Armani Watts Experience. Here’s the first:
The Armani Watts Experience in two plays. First, early in the game, Auburn uses a stack in the slot and runs a bubble. Watts is a little late to diagnose, struggles to break down in time to try and make a tackle. The average athletic profile shows up here. pic.twitter.com/qdTPxaeFdo— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
Early in the game, Watts is a little slow to diagnose the bubble screen from the inside stack look. He struggles to break down in space and to change direction in time to come close to making a tackle. It’s a rough look for the safety.
But later in the game…
Later in the game though, when Auburn uses the same look, Watts is prepared. Uses the gigabytes he acquired earlier in the game to anticipate the bubble screen. Might have even cheated with his alignment in anticipation for it. Blows the play up for a tackle for loss. pic.twitter.com/i5E30UtSPD— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
The exact same stack and play call comes up in the second half. Watts has seen it already, and he’s well prepared to not let what happened earlier in the game occur again. He quickly identifies the play, and makes an immediate break once the ball is snapped. He takes an anticipatory angle and drives with confidence and conviction to the bubble screen for a tackle for loss. He might have been a shade wider on this play than the previous look, but that could have been his own adjustment. Either way, it’s a prime example of the instincts and smarts that make Watts a solid prospect.
The next play is a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage, but Watts flashed here.
I love being able to tell when a player is prepared. Armani Watts (safety at top of screen) shows great anticipation breaking on the out route here. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with instincts and preparation. Would have got a PD here. pic.twitter.com/ZqZoXigVHP— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 5, 2018
This play shows the instincts, smarts and preparation that makes Watts an intriguing prospect. Watts has to have a good feel for the concept he’s seeing because he starts breaking for the out route simultaneously with the receiver. He was able to process the play and the quarterback’s body language to be in perfect position. It was an early break for Watts, allowing him to blanket the receiver should the ball have arrived to him.
Allowing Watts to play downhill, seeing the field in front of him is the best way to use him. When he has a full view he can make plays on the ball. If you can help him get his momentum to the play by starting from depth, it could benefit his ability to be in position. Not to bring up bad memories, but this is the kind of stuff I would like to see Watts have the freedom to do:
This is the kind of way you can use Watts. Safety Jeff Heath is playing a robber role, getting to start from depth and drive on a play. Allowing Watts to be more linear combined with his instincts can position him to be successful. pic.twitter.com/GmxJs73rVR— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
Safety Jeff Heath is playing a robber role here for the Cowboys. He has the freedom to drive on crossers from depth and try to get an interception. He was able to see Kelce, and get a game-clinching interception for Dallas on Alex Smith. Watts has the instincts to be able to make these kinds of plays.
Here's Watts getting to play with freedom in a robber role. Not the greatest change of direction but well positioned to make a play. Good ID by him. pic.twitter.com/iOAMyasET0— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
Here, Watts is in a similar role, breaking up a play on a crossing tight end. Even though he wasn’t getting downhill on this particular play, he was well positioned to blow up the pass catcher. He also has some ball production, including in big moments.
Watts has some ball production too. Got to drive down from depth for a game winning interception against Arkansas. pic.twitter.com/YFX2K9UOES— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
This was the last play of an overtime win for Texas A&M against Arkansas. Watts drives on the seam route and undercuts it from the back of the end zone. He saw the play from the depth, diagnosed it quickly and got under the ball enough to make the interception. An impressive play.
Watts isn’t perfect. His struggles with change of direction show up at times as well.
Watts is going to have his struggles in space. Not a great break down or enough twitch to adjust his body to be in position for the tackle. His tackling form needs work as well. pic.twitter.com/qJVsudePW3— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
As we saw earlier and also on this play, Watts doesn’t do great in space. He couldn’t break down quick enough or change direction in time to be well positioned to make the tackle. It resulted in a poor attempt to bring down the receiver with a high-arm tackle.
Sometimes Watts looks surprised or unprepared for a runner approaching him. It can lead to some rough moments as a tackler. Again, would like to see him break down and be ready to make contact. pic.twitter.com/HfhOjXfdjA— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 6, 2018
Watts seems kind of surprised at times when a runner gets close to him. It can almost look indecisive at times. I would like to see him playing from a more knee-bent athletic stance in space. He often is playing too high, struggles to change direction and break down to make a tackle. This isn’t a particularly strong attempt.
The bottom line
I believe you could see rapid growth from Watts, as he now has a chance to make football a full-time job. The more he sees and processes, the quicker the instincts can take over. As he adds more gigabytes to his football database, he’ll make strides. Watts appears on tape to be a smart player. He doesn’t look like someone who will be fooled twice. If that’s true, he’s the kind of player that could figure things out quickly.
There will probably be a few plays early in his career where he looks terrible trying to tackle in space. Some of the issues Watts has are fixable. Even his athleticism can be improved slightly. I don’t expect Watts to ever be a top-notch athlete at the position, but it doesn’t matter. There’s still a clear path to playing time right away.
Watts has the ability to make an impact as early as this year. If they use him correctly and position him to use his instincts, Watts can add immediate value.