Sammy Watkins has been one of the most frustrating dynasty players to own since entering the league in 2014. After dominating at the collegiate level for the Clemson Tigers, Watkins isn’t quite where many thought he would be five years after being drafted fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills. As owners begin to sell and give up on Watkins, I break down why you should still be holding out for Sammy Watkins.
Watkins put together a 1,219 yard 12 touchdown season as a true freshman, which was good enough for second in the ACC that year. Watkins saw a dip in production as a sophomore, partially due to injury, but would go back to dominating defenses as a junior. His junior year he caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watkins early college success earned him a breakout age of 18.2, in the 99th percentile. Watkins entered the NFL Draft having missed only a handful of games as a college player and looked to be one of the best wide receiver prospects in the entire draft.
Watkins is part of the historic 2014 NFL Draft. A draft that saw guys like Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Jadeveon Clowney, Aaron Donald, Brandin Cooks, and many more superstars drafted. Watkins was drafted ahead of all these guys, minus Clowney, at fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills. The Bills traded up from the ninth spot to select Watkins. It appeared the Bills had found their future franchise wide receiver.
After a strong rookie year with the Bills, and a promising 1,000 yard + season in his second year in just 13 games, it looked like Sammy Watkins had the tools to become one of the league’s best pass catchers. He finished off his second year strong and crept into the late first of dynasty drafts entering into the 2016 season. This is where his troubles began. Watkins would injure his left foot during the offseason heading into his third season. His injury would require a screw to be inserted into his foot, but he appeared to be ready for the 2016 season.
Watkins appeared in the first two games of the 2016 season before landing on injured reserve due to reinjuring the foot. Watkins would come back in week 11 and average just over 61 yards a game over the final six games, a 16 game pace of just under 1,000 receiving yards. This is where things got a little more interesting as Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams before the 2017 season. Lacking (seemingly) a true number one wideout, the fresh should have kickstarted Watkins NFL and dynasty career. Watkins had some solid weeks and finished with eight touchdowns but only 593 yards in 15 games as a Ram.
The Rams chose not to resign Watkins, letting him depart as a free agent. Watkins signed a three year $48 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, and it looked like they might have been paying him to eventually take over as their number one receiver. Watkins first nine games as a Chief started promising. Watkins had started all nine games and was a WR2 in fantasy after nine weeks. He was on pace for a 972-yard season to go along with around five touchdowns. While it certainly wouldn’t have been what we expected coming out of college, it would have landed him around WR15 on the season.
Targets and Durability
I did not go through all that to scare you off with his injury history, but to mention all his flashes off success throughout his career. Watkin’s talent has never been in question; it has been his durability. Watkins has also not been given a true number one wideout target share since his rookie year. Mostly due to his durability, it is still interesting to look at his numbers with a large target share. The next wide receiver selected after Watkins in the 2014 draft was Mike Evans. Evans has had a super successful NFL career and has been the Buccaneers clear number one wideout since being drafted. Just for fun, let’s look at Sammy Watkins projected 16 game stats with Mike Evans target share.
I am not showing you this to claim, with Mike Evans target counts Sammy Watkins would post these exact numbers because Watkins would first have to stay healthy for a full 16 games. However, it is very interesting to see what Watkins could be capable of if he were to stay healthy and be given a large target share like most top wideouts are. His 2017 was a little flukey because of his high touchdown rate, but I think the yards and receptions are pretty close given what his catch rate and average yards per catch were those years and what they have been throughout his entire career.
It is also worth noting that since entering the league, Watkins has scored 1.90 fantasy points per target while Mike Evans has only scored 1.75 fantasy points per target. Compared to someone as elite as Odell Beckham Jr. who has scored 1.97 fantasy points per target. That puts Watkins just .07 fantasy points per target behind Beckham since entering the league. Assuming Watkins got around 120 targets in 2018, which is a pretty typical amount for top receivers, Watkins would have been the WR15 on the year. Now for durability.
When doing my research on Watkins, I came across his stats and games played the last four to five years. Watkins last fantasy relevant season was in 2015, which means his last three seasons have been injury riddled and not exactly fantasy relevant. Remind you of someone else? Going into the 2017 season, Keenan Allen had not posted a fantasy relevant season in three years. After starting his career with a 1,000-yard season as a rookie, Allen would play just 23 out of a possible 48 regular season games. His ADP was tanking, and he was slapped with the “injury prone” tag and being sold for pennies on the dollar. Then in 2017 he finally put it all together and had an elite WR1 season and backed it up with another WR1 season in 2018 and has played in all 16 games the last two years. In Watkins last three years he has played in 33 out of a possible 48 games and has also been labeled “injury prone” and being given up on.
I am not suggesting that Sammy will return to a dominant level as Allen did, but using this to show it is possible for “injury prone” players to finally get healthy. Just take a look at the twos stats side by side; the situations are weirdly similar.
This part will be short as it is a super small sample size, but I found it interesting and wanted to share it. The Chiefs played in two playoff games last season. Watkins returned for both of them after missing the final six games of the regular season. Supposedly finally healthy, playoff Sammy Watkins saw the same amount of targets as teammate Tyreek Hill, 16 a piece. Hill turned his 16 into nine catches, a catch rate of 56.3%. Watkins turned his into ten catches, a catch rate of 62.5%. Not a huge difference, but Watkins went for 176 yards while Hill went for just 114 yards. Neither scored a receiving touchdown in either playoff game, although Hill did rush for one. As mentioned, a small sample size, but interesting what each did with 16 targets, a lot of variables play into these number, but in the playoffs, Watkins did more with his targets than Hill did.
My main goal here is to convince you to go out and buy Sammy Watkins, but at what price. Let’s start with startup draft prices. Watkins is currently going at around the seventh round of non-Superflex startup drafts which makes him roughly the 75th player off the board. This is around guys like Tyler Lockett, Kelvin Harmon, James Washington, and Will Fuller, none of which I would take ahead of Sammy Watkins. So while you may not be getting him at a huge discount, he is very much worth taking a shot on in that price range.
As we near rookie drafts everyone wants to know what you should pay for him in terms of rookie draft picks. In non-Superflex leagues, there are no quarterbacks I would want over Watkins. There is also no running backs I would want over Watkins. I would consider Noah Fant over Watkins in tight end premium leagues. The only people that are going to make me consider a rookie pick over Watkins would be the top tier of rookie wideouts.
The tier of AJ Brown, N’Keal Harry, DK Metcalf, and Hakeem Butler. However, in the past three seasons, only 36% of rookies with a rookie ADP of round one have a top 24 scoring season. Only 22% of rookies with an ADP of round one have a top 12 scoring season which means, you’re talking about as big of a gamble on Watkins staying healthy as you do a rookie producing. We have seen Watkin’s talents in the NFL and know his situation and whom he is tied to at quarterback. If you are a contending team and can buy Watkins for a mid to late first, it is a move that should be strongly considered.
Sammy Watkins is still just 25 years old with five years of NFL experience already under his belt. Tied to one of the league’s most elite quarterbacks and offensive gurus, Watkins has a very high NFL ceiling. If healthy in 2019, Watkins should be a top 24 wide receiver with weekly top 12 upside, which is exactly what we saw in weeks one through nine in 2018. Watkins has too much potential to ignore, even with the injury concern. We have seen people shake the “injury prone” tag before. With a full season to heal up and learn Andy Reid’s offense, Sammy Watkins should be a viable fantasy asset in 2019.