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Cornerback Keith Watkins II to miss 2016 season with knee injury

Cornerback Keith Watkins II to miss 2016 season with knee injury
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

In a major blow to Northwestern’s secondary, junior cornerback Keith Watkins II will miss the 2016 season with a knee injury, the program announced Tuesday.

As the No. 3 cornerback on the roster last year, Watkins II was a valuable fill-in player in the secondary. He tied for ninth on the team with 41 tackles and tied for third with six passes broken up.

“I’m really disappointed for him, he’s worked so hard, but we’ve got great depth at that position (and I’m) excited about the guys that now get that opportunity from somebody else’s tough situation,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said via a video on the team’s Twitter account.

Watkins II said via the video that he twisted his left knee in practice last week but played through it until it swelled up after practice. He will have surgery next week.

He had nine tackles, including eight solo tackles, in a breakout performance against Iowa before following it up with eight tackles the following week against Nebraska. With cornerback Nick VanHoose injured for the Outback Bowl against Tennessee, Watkins II recorded a career-high three pass break-ups.

The injury will leave NU more shorthanded than expected at cornerback after VanHoose’s graduation and junior Marcus McShepard’s spring position transfer to wide receiver. Fitzgerald named sophomore Montre Hartage, redshirt freshman Trae Williams and redshirt freshman Alonzo Mayo as possible replacements for the cornerback spot opposite returning starter senior Matthew Harris.

ICYMI: Two Wildcats drafted by NFL teams, two sign free agent deals

ICYMI: Two Wildcats drafted by NFL teams, two sign free agent deals
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

The final four rounds of the NFL Draft took place Saturday afternoon, and two Wildcats heard their names called. Defensive end Dean Lowry was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round and superback Dan Vitale was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 6th round as a fullback.

Additionally, defensive lineman Deonte Gibson and safety Traveon Henry each signed contracts as undrafted free agents following the completion of the draft. Gibson signed with the Detroit Lions and Henry inked a deal with the Buccaneers.

There is still time for other Wildcats to sign with NFL teams and defensive back Nick VanHoose is expected to sign somewhere, although the timing of a potential deal is not known.