For the second time in as many cycles, Tom Herman and his staff pieced together an elite defensive back class, and the headliner of the bunch, Kenyatta Watson II, made his future on the Forty Acres official on Wednesday by signing his National Letter of Intent with the Texas Longhorns.
A member of Texas’ latest top 10 recruiting haul since May 1, Watson was once a Florida State commit before re-opening his recruitment on Jan. 7 after adding nearly 20 more offers to his invitation list, which finished with 43 programs from around the nation’s coveting his services.
Texas was among that multitude, jumping into the mix in November 2017, and it would prove to become the offer that altered his future.
Just weeks after announcing his decommitment from Florida State, the four-star Georgia product made his way to the Forty Acres for an unofficial visit on Feb. 24, which cemented Texas place in his top two just days later on March 5.
“I felt like the coaches were very genuine,” Watson previously told Burnt Orange Nation of why Texas made his top two. “I felt very comfortable there. I liked the way they use the DBs.”
With two options atop his mind, Watson wasted little time taking the next step in his recruitment, officially visiting Notre Dame on April 13 before officially touring Texas two weeks later on April 27. The latter trip essentially landed his pledge, as Watson went on to announce his commitment to the Longhorns just days later on May 1.
Tennessee tried to shake things up once Watson’s senior season got underway, and the interested was reciprocated to an extent. For the first time since just days after his decommitment from the Seminoles, Watson unofficially visited the Volunteers on Sept. 22, but of course, remained firm in his pledge to Texas. Tennessee then circled back again down the stretch in hopes of a late push by stopping Grayson High School on two separate occasions within the past month, but Texas countered with an in-home visit on Dec. 5.
Two weeks removed from that in-home visit, Watson officially inked his future with the Longhorns, and in doing so, he provides Texas with one of the nation’s truly elite athletes.
A rangy 6’2, 187-pound prospect, Watson provides tremendous length for a boundary cornerback and comes equipped with the physical traits to match. At his regional Nike The Opening, Watson recorded a 4.5 40-yard dash, a 4.12 20-yard shuttle, and a 45.2-inch vertical leap, which marked the best effort among all 2018 Nike The Opening participants across the country. When collectively considered, Watson’s SPARQ score if 124.84 finishes as the 11th-best rating in the nation.
Unsurprisingly, such notable traits translate to the field.
“I think I’m very good at playing man and zone coverages, but mostly man because of how long and fast I am,” Watson previously told Burnt Orange Nation. “Not a lot of [receivers] can get off of the coverage. I think for me as a player, that’s where I can excel at.”
A really fluid athlete, Watson often utilizes his length to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and when they do break off into their route, he’s able to flip his hips well and has the speed to run with virtually any receiver. That, along with his noted length allowed Watson to register one interception and 14 pass deflections as a senior.
Furthermore, in addition to his tremendous upside in coverage, Watson has proven especially disciplined in defending the run from the cornerback position, which has been something Texas has seen often make or break its defense throughout the past two seasons, whether it be Holton Hill (2017), DeShon Elliott (2017), Kris Boyd, and Davante Davis excelling at times, or Brandon Jones, Caden Sterns, and P.J. Locke III struggling during others.
As a senior, Watson’s ability to successfully defend the run is largely responsible for him finishing second on a loaded Grayson team with 85 tackles, trailing only top-ranked Auburn outside linebacker signee Owen Pappoe.
Where may Watson fit into the rotation as a true freshman?
With the Longhorns set to lose Boyd, Davis, and Locke (nickel back) to graduation, there are several jobs coming open in the secondary, but there are also several options aiming to fill those voids.
If his progression goes according to plan, Anthony Cook appears to be a likely option to emerge as a starter in Boyd’s place after totaling 18 tackles, one sack, and one pass breakup in 13 games, including one start against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State. Juniors-to-be Josh Thomson and Chris Brown collectively boast 45 appearances and four starts and will be looking to step into starting roles, as will a redshirt sophomore Kobe Boyce, who saw action in six games this season, including two starts. Not to mention, Texas still has former All-American Jalen Green waiting in the wings, who may potentially own the highest ceiling of any cornerback on Texas’ roster in 2019.
Nevertheless, despite all the talent already at Texas, Watson is confident that he can come in and compete from day one.
“For the most part, from where I play at,” Watson said of where his confidence comes from, adding that he became more motivated after often being limited earlier in his high school career. “I’m not afraid of competition regardless of who you are. At the end of the day, the best man is gonna win, regardless if they’re six All-Americans or not,” he added, referencing Texas’ 2018 defensive back class.
Had Watson become an early enrollee and enjoyed the benefit of being on campus to develop and learn the system throughout spring football, he would be as intriguing of an option as any to content for playing time, and at the very least, take hold of a place within the two-deep. That task, of course, becomes a bit taller with Watson not set to arrive until the summer, but he’s an Under Armour All-American and the top-ranked Big 12-bound defensive back for a reason — he’s a tremendous talent.
Should Texas still be searching for answers in the secondary entering fall camp, the nation’s No. 135 player and No. 16 cornerback may be set to see the field sooner than later.