Most of the experts agree: The draft stock is rising for a pair of NFL hopefuls out of Washington State.
Cornerback Jaylen Watson and right tackle Abraham Lucas wrapped up their weeklong stay in Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday, when they competed for the National Team in the Senior Bowl – an annual all-star showcase for college grads aimed at providing pro prospects a chance to demonstrate their talents in front of scouts and analysts.
Watson told The Spokesman-Review on Sunday in a direct message on Twitter that he played approximately 40 reps in the game. He was targeted once and didn’t permit a completion.
Snap counts weren’t made available, but Lucas entered the lineup in the second quarter and played at least two possessions. He threw a couple of bulldozing lead blocks, clearing lanes for two second-quarter first downs on the ground, and didn’t surrender a quarterback pressure in the National Team’s 20-10 victory over the American Team.
But scouts tend to be more interested in the week leading up to the game, when they can more closely evaluate players in individual drills.
Watson, who checked in at 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, made a splash early in the week after being named a “player to watch” before the Senior Bowl by Fox Sports analyst Rob Rang.
“The 2022 cornerback class is one of the best I’ve seen, with a handful of prospects sure to be drafted in the first round and plenty of future starters likely to be available on day two,” Rang wrote. “One of those candidates not – yet? – generating as much buzz in the media as he has with scouts is WSU’s Watson … whose length (77-inch wingspan) and physicality show up in coverage and run support.
“Pac-12 opponents wisely stayed away from his side of the field.”
Watson, projected as an early Day 3 draft pick by multiple outlets, finished his senior season at WSU with two interceptions, three pass break-ups and four fumble recoveries. He was targeted more than four times by opposing quarterbacks in just three games and allowed only two or more receptions in two contests, per Pro Football Network. Only one receiver gave him fits this season – USC’s Drake London, who is probably the top pass-catcher of this draft class.
“His length and combination allows him to contest almost any catch point,” PFN wrote last month. “He can keep up downfield with long strides and reportedly ran a 4.46-yard dash in junior college.
“Watson’s press-coverage ability clamps opposing receivers near the line of scrimmage. However, his physicality extends far beyond that.”
Watson appeared in a handful of one-on-one coverage highlights posted to Twitter by scouts and analysts during Senior Bowl practice sessions. He matched up well against big-bodied pass-catchers and seemed to win positioning more often than not.
“We hadn’t seen Watson before the Senior Bowl but he got our attention early on in the week and he consistently had good reps,” wrote Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
PFN published a daily practice report throughout the week. On Day 1, Watson was apparently “terrific” in individual drills.
“Consistently shutting down his man and being physical throughout the route,” PFN wrote. “He struggled a bit in scrimmage, but it was still a plus day for Watson.”
Watson took a step back Wednesday, per PFN, and got beat off the line on a few occasions, but “he had some good reps.” PFN didn’t report on Watson on Thursday.
Watson played two years at WSU after earning All-America juco honors at Ventura College in California. He broke out in 2020 as a Pac-12 standout.
He’s hoping to be the first Coug cornerback to be drafted since 2005, when the Denver Broncos took Karl Paymah in the third round.
“Teams that covet long-bodied press-man corners are going to be high on Watson,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told On3.com in the fall. “We’re getting back mainly third to fourth-round grades from friends inside the league. Watson has the type of tools that would allow him to excel in Senior Bowl one-on-one drills and potentially solidify himself as a Day 2 prospect.”
Lucas might have cemented himself as either a second- or third-rounder.
“Lucas displayed a quality anchor and improved hand usage all week,” according to an article published Friday by Pro Football Focus. “He’s always been mobile for a 322-pounder but was seen as a project in terms of technique. His performance this week may push him into the Day 2 conversation.”
Lucas, 6-6 with an 81-inch wingspan, stalemated several edge-rushers with his sturdy anchor on individual pass-blocking reps last week. A 42-game starter at WSU, Lucas was named one of Rang’s 10 National Team players who improved his draft stock during the Senior Bowl’s slate of practices.
“Looked well-built physically and he moved well in his kick step,” Sports Illustrated’s Jordan Pun added on Twitter. “Wouldn’t say he was a standout per se but he held his own and was solid. Love his pass-pro skills on film.”
Lucas didn’t allow a sack last season and was the Pac-12’s highest-graded pass blocker, per PFF. He’s been known as one of the nation’s top pass-blocking tackles since his sophomore year in 2019.
PFN isn’t as sold on Lucas. The publication gave him mixed reviews in its daily practice reports.
“He struggled to lower his pads – an expected issue for a taller blocker,” PFN wrote Tuesday.
“Nevertheless, he’s a well-put-together athlete who showed he could anchor and drive defenders downfield as a run blocker.”
PFN critiqued his sometimes “heavy feet” on lateral movements and noted how Lucas “kept his torso open a bit too much in 1-on-1s and lost balance against some rushers.”
“Similar to his first two days at the Senior Bowl, Lucas was very up-and-down,” PFN reported Thursday. “His pad level remains an issue, and his wide hands show up at times.
“But Lucas also displayed the athleticism to flip his hips and latch on reach blocks. He carries a lot of power when he channels through his length. Lucas’ stock will remain stagnant, but there’s something to work with.”
The NFL draft will begin April 28.
Other Cougars hoping to find professional homes include running back Max Borghi, slot receiver Travell Harris and linebacker Jahad Woods. Borghi was on the National Team roster for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which took place Jan. 29. He didn’t record any statistics. Harris scored a 73-yard touchdown at the Hula Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 31 and earned the game’s offensive MVP award, as announced over Twitter on Wednesday. Woods was named defensive MVP.