Jaylen Watkins is ready to see all of his hard work pay off.
After months of preparation, the Florida cornerback is spending this week with family and friends back home in Cape Coral to celebrate his selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
But instead of watching Saturday during rounds 4-7, Watkins will be tuning in Friday. Initially projected as a sixth-round pick, he is now expected to go in the third round after strong performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
“I’m feeling good about everything,” Watkins said. “When you can go out and improve your draft stock, that’s the goal of everybody during the process. From what I’m hearing, I’ve gone up a lot.”
After recording the most tackles (52) by a UF defensive back in 2013, Watkins impressed at the Senior Bowl before he suffered a strained Achilles during one of the practices.
“I proved to people that I could play corner and lock down receivers,” he said.
Then came the NFL Combine in late February. While Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson did poorly in the 40-yard dash and on bench press, Watkins ran a 4.41 and had 22 reps of 225 pounds, tied for the most among cornerbacks.
“I was aiming for a 4.3, but I had the Achilles kind of holding me back,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that, I probably would have had the fastest time for a corner. But I was definitely happy with what I ran dealing with my issue.
“I think a lot of people didn’t know I was that fast. The reps on the bench shocked people, too. But that’s what the whole process is about — surprising people and showing them what you can do.”
The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder has been in Gainesville over the past couple months rehabbing his injury and hanging out with former UF teammates Matt Elam, Josh Evans and Jelani Jenkins, all of whom went through the process last year.
“NFL teams will be stupid to pass on him,” Evans said of Watkins. “He’s one of the best corners coming out, and you can’t go wrong with him.”
Watkins has met and worked out privately with several teams in recent weeks. Where he’ll be drafted isn’t what matters to him. He’s just anxious to get in training camp and continue turning heads.
“You just never know where you’ll go,” Watkins said. “That’s the roughest part about this situation. You literally have no idea how it could fall. It’s kind of hard, but I’m ready. I just want to get into somebody’s camp and play.”