Earl Of Dukes
Curious Watford An NFL Prospect
Posted: December 21, 2012
HARRISONBURG — Earl Watford is naturally curious.
During his career at James Madison University, the big 22-year-old went through three majors before picking a health-related one at the end of his sophomore year. He graduated this month with a degree in communication sciences and disorders, picking up three minors along the way.
He’s also a NASCAR fan — and not so much because of the racing. He’s more intrigued by the mechanical and scientific intricacy involved in building a car capable of moving at 200 mph.
Along with athleticism uncommon in a man his size, it’s that innate interest in how and why things work that has turned the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Watford into an NFL prospect at offensive guard.
“Every coach has a kid they can’t kick out of the gym or [who] can’t get enough information,” said Chris Malone, who coached JMU’s offensive line throughout Watson’s career. “A sponge for knowledge — that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s not interested in the where; he wants to know why, and that makes it easy to coach people like that. They’re fun to coach and, ultimately, he’s a fun kid to be around.”
It’s also made Watford more marketable to the NFL, which spent a lot of time this preseason scouting him. Malone, fired along with offensive coordinator Jeff Durden this month as part of an offensive staff shakeup, estimated that 30 teams stopped in to gawk at the monolithic-yet-agile Watford, who, since the end the Dukes’ season, has been named to four Division I-AA All-America teams: the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, The Sports Network and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
“He has really good balance to block NFL defensive linemen,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. “You’ve got be a good athlete, and Earl’s that. He’s really a superior athlete.”
Matthews said he expects Watford to get invited to the NFL combine Feb. 20-26. If that happens, Watford would be the first Madison player to go since Dorian Brooks and Arthur Moats in 2010.
Two NFL scouting websites rated Watford as the 11th- or 14-best offensive guard in the draft. NFLDraftScout.com pegged him at No. 11, while ESPN ranked Watford 14th and assigned him a rating of 33, which classifies Watford as a borderline draft pick. He will get an opportunity to better his stock at the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 19 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. It’s one of several college all-star games that give prospects another chance to audition for the pros.
But Watford’s performance at the combine likely will be a major factor in determining what happens to him in the NFL draft, scheduled for April 25-27.
“When he goes to the combine and does all that workout stuff, he’s going to be a freak,” said Malone, a former All-Big East offensive lineman at Virginia Tech. “They’re going to like him. But Earl’s every bit as good as anyone playing at Virginia Tech or Virginia, I can tell you that right now.”
As of mid-week, Watford said he hadn’t gotten an invitation to the combine but was “pretty sure” he would get to go. He’s also getting ready. Watford left Thursday for Medford, N.J., where he will train at 7 Deuce Sports with former NFL offensive tackle Tra Thomas. Watford said he also planned to spend time in Charlotte, N.C., and train with former JMU strength coach Jim Durning, now the strength coach for North Carolina-Charlotte’s fledgling I-A football team.
“I’m not nervous,” Watford said. “I’m excited because I get a chance to work with these great people and at these great places. I want to better myself at every position possible for me to play in the NFL, to give myself the best chance. Coming from a smaller school, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.”
Malone said Watford’s athleticism would set him apart and reduce any I-AA stigma.
“There’s such a deficiency in that area in the NFL with offensive linemen ’cause the defensive lines keep getting bigger, faster and stronger,” Malone said. “… They’re starting to figure out, ‘Well, how I am going to figure out how to block that thing with this thing?’ They need to figure how much more athletic they need to get on that side of the ball, and that’s what Earl brings to the table.”
The athleticism is most apparent in his speed, and he knows.
“I already have things other offensive linemen don’t have, just the speed — the motor that I have,” Watford said. “But I want to be great in every aspect: footwork, hands, just the mental aspect of it. I want to succeed. I want to be successful in everything that I do.”
Josh Haymore, a JMU assistant coach from 2005-11 who now coaches at Broadway High School, recruited Watford out of Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. Matthews said they found Watford off a tip from former West Virginia assistant Bill Kirelawich, who is currently an assistant at Arizona. Matthews said Watford “fell through the cracks” when Rich Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan.
Haymore said Watford — who picked the Dukes over three I-A teams: West Virginia, Minnesota and Temple — ran the 40-yard dash in about 4.7 seconds at the time, which is flying for an offensive lineman. Because of gaining weight in college, Watford’s 40 time now is in the 4.9-5.0 range.
“He was just running everywhere, playing sideline to sideline,” Haymore said. “… He’d run down the field with the receivers and the running backs, trying to make blocks for the other players.”
Watford still has things to work on. One, is width. He’s thin for an offensive lineman, and that’s a reason he plans to bulk up by 10-15 pounds. The other thing is pad level.
Malone said scouts asked why Watford played with his shoulders so high (it makes it harder to get leverage). But it worked for Watford — strong enough to block defenders with only one arm — during his college career, regardless of the opponent.
“If you watch the Virginia Tech game from three years ago, if you watch the North Carolina game from two years ago and the West Virginia game from last season, you’ll see a guy who fits in,” Malone said. “It wasn’t like he was getting blown back. He’s got his hands in the right place. He dominated people.”
Now, he’s got the NFL curious.