Danny Watkins is a Canadian, a former rugby player and a proud firefighter. He embraces all three.
But Watkins has come to Miami to shed a very different type of label: First-round bust.
Watkins, the offensive lineman dumped by the Eagles just two years after making him the 23rd overall pick, signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins Tuesday morning. To make room on the roster for Watkins, Miami waived backup lineman Josh Samuda.
After his first practice with his new team, a rejuvenated Watkins said this is “the most exciting time” in his life.
“I got to Philadelphia and it was a rough go from the get-go,” added the 28-year-old offensive guard from West Kelowna, Canada. “I got broken down to bones and just never got built back up. It was more of a mental thing. It was very disappointing to myself that it just never panned out the way it could.”
Watkins, who can work at both left and right guard, played in 11 games last year, starting six. He was the league’s 54th-rated guard among those who played at least a quarter of their team’s snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
After cutting Watkins over the weekend, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the “innate toughness” Watkins showed at Baylor never materialized.
“You felt like you were getting an enforcer, and he never let himself go here on that, and I don’t know why that was,” Roseman said, according to CSNPhilly.com. “I told him that was what I was the most confused by. Because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw on his play on the field, and I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself, and he couldn’t just go out and play, and I think getting away from being Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him,” Roseman added.
When asked about that assessment Tuesday, Watkins seemed to agree: “I know I can play physical and tough football. I think it was more of a mental aspect.”
The external criticism of Watkins’ play, meanwhile, was even harsher. Some suggested his true passion is firefighting, not football — a theory Watkins dismissed.
There’s no arguing, however, that fire service was his first love. He became a volunteer firefighter in his British Columbia hometown as a teenager, and decided to make it a career.
Already in his 20s, Watkins decided to enroll at Butte – a junior college in California – to climb the professional ladder.
It was there that someone suggested he give football a try. His size (6-3, 310) made the former rugby and ice hockey player a natural lineman. Watkins played tackle well enough to get an offer at Baylor, where he earned all-conference honors his final season.
The following spring, the Eagles made him a first-round pick. Watkins invited five firefighter friends from back home to New York for the draft. It would be one of his few happy memories as a pro. After two years, the Eagles had seen enough, and cut him loose.
“That’s a great organization and it’s just disappointing to me,” Watkins said. “I wish I could have succeeded better, but I’m trying not to dwell too much in the past and want to move forward.”
He won’t be asked to do too much, too soon in Miami. John Jerry will start at right guard against the Browns, said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who is taking a wait-and-see approach on Watkins’ role.
During his short time as a free agent, Watkins had drawn interest from other teams, he said, but thought Miami was the best fit.
Perhaps it’s because of the organization’s history of rehabbing offensive linemen who have struggled elsewhere. Richie Incognito was a mess before signing with the Dolphins; he was a Pro Bowler in 2012.
“I’ve spoken to him a little bit,” Incognito said. He told Watkins to “embrace the change. Approach it with a positive attitude and make the most of the opportunity.”
Watkins’ fresh start comes at the expense of Samuda, who survived final roster cuts only to be waived three days later. Samuda started the first three preseason games at right guard, but struggled. He allowed two sacks and six quarterback hurries during the exhibition season.
“Thanks Miami For The Love And Support,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. “But my time has come to end here... Love you all.”