Full disclaimer (in case the headline didn’t give it away) – I love Sammy Watkins. I’m not even sure where it came from, but it’s there, and it’s real. As the old saying goes, “When you know, you know”, and I know. I am the self-appointed President of the Sammy Watkins fan club, and I’m always taking applications for new members.
Watkins is being drafted as a low-end WR2 with a June ADP of 46 overall (WR22). For the first off-season in his career, Watkins is available outside the top 40 players in a dynasty startup. Other players in the 40-50 range include rookie running backs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, and Royce Freeman as well as Derrick Henry, Alshon Jeffrey, and Josh Gordon. Despite having 4 NFL seasons under his belt, Watkins has just turned 25 years old. He is the clear stand out player in this range.
Some folks out there are already labelling Sammy a “bust” (a term I hate because of its vague nature), given that he was taken #4 overall in the 2014 NFL draft ahead of Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jnr, and Brandin Cooks – all who have out-produced Watkins on the field to date. Whilst I agree that Watkins has not done what is expected of a #4 overall pick, I am reluctant to hold the incompetence of the Buffalo Bills against him. Remember folks, this is the same franchise that benched Tyrod Taylor for Five Pick Peterman and drafted EJ Manuel in the first round.
All three of the WRs mentioned above now have top-30 startup value, whilst the wider dynasty community is starting to lose faith in Sammy. That’s music to the ears of us ‘Sammy-truthers’ out there.
Production to Date
One of the criticisms leveled at Sammy is that he has been in the league for 4 seasons, and has yet to truly breakout. Let’s take a look at his production history in his career to date:
Watkins had a successful rookie season, totaling 982 yards and 6 touchdowns on 65 catches with Kyle Orton (who spent the previous 3 seasons as a backup) and the aforementioned EJ Manuel throwing him the ball.
His sophomore season was even better: 1047 yards and 9 touchdowns in just 13 games, finishing as the WR20, whilst every WR that finished ahead of him played no fewer than 15 games. His PPG of 18.2 was 10th overall at the position. Unfortunately for Watkins, he has battled a variety of lower body injuries of varying severity since entering the league, the cause of his 3 missed games in 2015.
2016 was a low point in Watkins’ career, missing the first 8 regular season games following a Jones fracture in his left foot, and was mostly ineffective during the second half the season.
He was finally able to get completely healthy and produce in week 16 against the Dolphins, going off for 154 yards and a score on just 7 catches. Unfortunately, in Week 17 Watkins managed just 31 yards on 4 catches against the Jets – although that may be somewhat excused as he found himself on Revis Island with EJ Manuel (9/20 completions) and Cardale Jones (6/11 completions) throwing him the ball. Hardly a recipe for success.
In 2017, the Bills continued to accelerate the downfall of Tyrod Taylor, letting Robert Woods leave in free-agency to the Rams, and then trading Watkins to the same team for E.J. Gaines and a 2nd round pick. However, that trade didn’t happen until the 11th of August, just 1 month before the Rams’ regular-season opener against the Colts. This provided Watkins with precious little time to get up to speed with the offense.
L.A. utilized Watkins almost exclusively as a field stretcher, which meant that his overall production suffered. He was able to open up the field in ways that Kupp and Woods were not able to – and as we know, head coaches don’t give a damn about your fantasy team.
Whilst he wasn’t a reliable fantasy commodity due to the fact he only saw 70 targets, Sammy was a top 15 WR in Football Outsiders DYAR and DVOA. DYAR is Defense-adjusted Yards above Replacement which values the player’s performance on plays where they caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. DVOA represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations. A higher DVOA rating, the better the player’s performance. Watkins finished as the 14th WR in DYAR and 6th in DVOA. As you can see, he shared some great company.
Watkins had an efficient 2017 season, but it’s not just the numbers that tell us he is #good. Even as a game-film layperson, I am able to see the talent that Sammy brings to the field. Talent Evaluator Matt Waldman uses Watkins’ skill set as a ‘lens’ to benchmark prospective rookie WRs for his legendary Rookie Scouting Portfolio. You can find a fantastic Twitter thread here containing an analysis of Sammy’s game – but Matt concludes the following:
“Watkins’ game is a clinic: hands position, fingertips catching, release techniques, hand and arm strikes within the release technique, selling the vertical against man coverage, manipulating zone coverage with the stem, and stacking defenders.”
He’s #good, people.
2018 and the Kansas City Chiefs
On the 13 March 2018, Watkins signed a 3 year $48 million contract with the Chiefs with $30 million guaranteed (per Spotrac). Taking his signing bonus into consideration, Watkins will take home the most cash in 2018 out of any WR in the league. Money talks and the Chiefs PAID $ammy.
I’ll admit that we should take all the reports coming out of mini-camps and OTA’s with a grain of salt, but it’s really, really hard to not get excited about the buzz that Watkins is generating. He reportedly is being moved all over the field rather than being limited to the ‘X’ receiver role. He’s also gushed about Andy Reid helping him become a better football player, as well impressed KC QB Patrick Mahomes with some great catches. It doesn’t hurt to impress your new boss either:
Now given the depth of pass catchers in the KC offense, people are right to be initially skeptical that Watkins will receive the volume he needs to be a reliable fantasy WR. However, when you look a little closer, the route to fantasy relevance is not too difficult to imagine for Watkins. He is also the cheapest starting option in the KC offense. Tyreek Hill is WR11 (21 overall), Kelce is TE1 (30 overall), and Kareem Hunt is RB7 (14 overall) – all significantly more expensive investments.
This tweet from Graham Barfield indicates that some regression is more probable than not for Tyreek Hill:
Don’t expect Hill to have a total monopoly on all of Mahomes’ deep shots either. Courtesy of airyards.com, we can see that Sammy is lightning fast across the field. The comparison to new teammate Tyreek Hill is eye-opening.
It’s also not hard to imagine Travis Kelce seeing a dip in volume. Over the past two seasons, KC threw an NFL high 31% of passes to the TE position. With Alex Smith moving on, and the Chiefs handing the keys over the Mahomes, it’s entirely possible that Kelce sees a reduction in targets. For all intents and purposes, Mahomes is a rookie, but don’t fall for the narrative that rookie QB’s favor the TE either. TJ Hernandez from 4for4 and Joe Redemann from Numberfire have dispelled this myth. You can find their findings here and here. On top of that, Mahomes’ usage of the TE position in the Texas Tech air raid offense was almost non-existent. In his junior year, there wasn’t even a TE on their roster (per Sports Reference)
Sammy Watkins is going to ball out this season. Use this opportunity to buy him low before his ADP climbs back up to its previous range. Some owners could be willing to part with him for a 2019 1st – a price I would happily pay.
You can find me on Twitter @FF_DownUnder, where you can also file your application to the Sammy Watkins fan club.