Coming out of Clemson with Deshaun Watson, Watkins was an experienced defensive tackle/defensive end and a leader on their defense. At 6’3” and 305 lbs., his size and stature, allows him to play anywhere on the line and hold his own. His best play comes when he is tasked with stopping the run, not rushing the passer. He did record a school high 10.5 sacks his senior year, but I don’t think he has the burst to accumulate those types of sack numbers in the NFL. The Texans also do not need him to rush the passer as much as they need him to support the run defense. The Texans allowed over 109 rushing yards per game in 2017. Watkins should provide a good balance of run stopping ability with the Texans’ healthy pass rushing talent going forward.
Carlos was inactive for the first four games of the 2017 regular season. He was buried behind J.J. Watt, Christian Covington, Brandon Dunn, former teammate D.J. Reader, and Joel Heath. Despite being listed on the depth chart, he would not see action until Week 4 against the Titans. He recorded just one tackle in that game.
In Week 5, Watt got hurt. In Week 8, Covington went down. In Week 14, Reader left the field. With the injuries piling up throughout the season, Watkins inevitably moved up the depth chart and got more and more time on the field. With more game time came proportionately more production.
The rookie’s best game of the season came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. Now, no one is saying that the Colts’ offensive line is full of world beaters, but Watkins looked remarkably better against those interior offensive line than he had in previous weeks.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Watkins is at end in a 4-3 defense. This was an interesting adjustment by the Texans, as the personnel of the front seven had completely changed with Brian Cushing back in the fold. Watkins also physically fits better in this system; he can set the edge as he does in this play.
Off the snap, Watkins takes on Joe Haeg with great hand placement and faster feet. By getting up field and controlling Haeg with his hands, Watkins is able to shed the OT and make the tackle after only a short gain.
When Frank Gore came to the line of scrimmage, Zach Cunningham decided to go inside his block and completely overlap with Benardrick McKinney. If Watkins doesn’t get off his block, this play goes for at least 15 yards. Watkins does a good job shifting his shoulders and getting to the inside of the offensive tackle.
Watkins played 65% of the defensive snaps against the Colts and recorded five tackles. All of his tackles came against direct run plays where he stopped the play for short yardage.
Where he can grow: Explosiveness off the line of scrimmage will need to be the biggest improvement this offseason if Watkins is to increase his production in his second season. He would make huge strides in his game if he can increase his tenacity at the point of contact and be able to explode off the line of scrimmage better. Too many times against the Colts in Week 17, Watkins was gridlocked with an offensive guard and would get his shoulders turned, allowing the running back to pass right by him. With his size and frame, Watkins must keep improving on his ability to put offensive linemen back on their heels. This would allow Watkins to have better control over his gap responsibility and make more tackles for loss.
Fighting off combo blocks is also something that he needs to work on. Improvements in some of the items above will assist Watkins as he battles zone and combo blocks. What is nice is that Watkins is completely healthy entering the offseason and can focus entirely on fine tuning his skill set.
What the future has in store: Compared to Covington and Heath, I think Watkins has the best physique and tools to work with. Although Covington has been constantly productive and Heath is a consistent force, Watkins has the most potential to spell Watt next season at weak side defensive end. What I like most about Watkins is the knowledge and play recognition he showed later in the season. His experience at Clemson, along with being surrounded by a great defense, is a phenomenal foundation on which to build his career. As we have seen with the Eagles, having depth at the defensive line contributes to a fresh pass rush at the end of the game. I would definitely prefer Watt not playing 100% of the snaps at DE in 2018, and Carlos Watkins could aid Watt in that fashion. A huge offseason of growth and expectations are ahead for Watkins as he will look to build off a slow but promising rookie season.