Texas A&M football has to replace Justin Evans, a top 50 NFL Draft pick, in the secondary this season. After Armani Watts, who else will emerge in 2017?
It’s not very often that you lose a top round NFL draft pick and have someone waiting in the wings that’s just as good, if not better. Armani Watts has a more than decent chance to be a first round draft selection in 2017 and his fellow safety Donovan Wilson continues to climb up draft boards with his aggressive play.
After those two seniors there is a lot of youth at the position. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the grind of the SEC schedule is in full force, say come to November, depth in the secondary is going to be critical. The Aggies have more options than they did a year ago, and that bodes well for the expectations of the unit as a whole.
A first team All-SEC selection, Watts has cemented himself as one of the best safeties in college football. His ability to read the quarterback and make instinctive plays is hugely important in the success of the Aggie defense. Even when he’s not making the interception himself, he still contributes with his excellent ability to take receivers out of plays and shut down his area of the field. Throwing deep on Watts is a bad idea.
What makes him even scarier is his versatility. Watts had six tackles for a loss, a sack, two interceptions, three passes defended, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2016. He finds a way to put himself into just about every play and his efforts are usually rewarded. He’s a lock to be on the field for every defensive snap.
Wilson is a disruptive ballhawk that is best on the line of scrimmage. He hasn’t proven himself down the field, but then again he hasn’t been asked to do much of that so far in his Texas A&M career. Justin Evans was the man alongside Watts last season. Wilson might be the best nickel in the SEC. The hole left by Evans needs to be filled, but I’m not so sure that Defensive Coordinator John Chavis is going to permanently move Wilson that far away from the ball. He’s going to be on the field, but it might not be as a full time safety like Watts.
Larry Pryor played sparingly through the first several games of the 2016 season. It was during the Ole Miss game that he began to show he could be a real force for the Aggie defense. Armani Watts exited the game with an injury forcing Pryor into the full-time role. He picked off Rebels’ quarterback Shea Patterson shortly thereafter. While the Aggies didn’t win, it was a defining moment for the redshirt freshman. If Donovan Wilson slides down into the nickel position it will be Pryor starting alongside Armani Watts in the defensive backfield.
There wasn’t much on the stat sheet for Chattman last season, but he’s the kind of glue guy that will see some more playing time this season. He participated in all twelve games during the regular season and finished the year with seven tackles, a pass defended and a fumble recovery. That fumble came in the Aggies’ win over Tennessee and proved to be a big moment in the contest. He’s 6-foot-5, slender, and for now the next man up after the starters and Pryor.
Two freshman, Derrick Tucker and Debione Renfro are waiting in the wings. Both guys could see meaningful playing time in 2017, particularly if any of the starters were to miss time with an injury. Tucker looks to be the most ready to contribute out of the gate, but both guys need some time in the weight room before they’re ready to tackle Derrius Guice or Bo Scarbrough.
Losing Justin Evans to the NFL hurts the overall talent of this safety group, but if anything, the tackling should be better as a group. And that could make all the difference. Both of the young guys are quick and should be able to play at or near the line of scrimmage. Each should see some of the field in 2017.