The case for Sammy Watkins

Streeter Lecka

The Jaguars have the opportunity to select the draft's most electrifying player this year in Sammy Watkins.

If someone had told me a few month ago that the Jaguars were going to draft a receiver at the number 3 pick, I would have been pretty upset. With pressing needs on both sides of the ball and a deep draft at receiver this year, I thought it would be a very stupid move for a franchise in need of serious rebuilding. I considered a receiver (even though a need for the jaguars) to be a waste of a pick that high because I never regarded the position as worthy of a top 10 draft pick. There are exceptions of course, with players such as Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, but it is so rare to find a player that special that it's not worth setting your franchise back over the position. That perception all but changed when I saw Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl this year.

Full disclosure, I'm a current Ohio State student and absolutely hated Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl this season. He was able to absolutely torch our defense the entire game and there seemed to be no answer to stop him. I hated Sammy so much for what he could do, and that's the reason why he is such a special player. He isn't an all around talent (he rarely works the intermediate range or the middle of the field) but he is able to stretch out the top of a defense as well as make plays when he gets the ball in his hands on short passes. Sammy only caught two passes past the line of scrimmage but was still able to rack up over 200 yards receiving in the game. He powered through tackled and sped past defenders with ease. Enough about my experience though, lets get down to numbers.

8/31 vs Georgia

In evaluating Watkins I picked three games from the season, one beginning, one middle, one end, to get a broader view of his work as a whole. The first game tape I watch of Sammy Watkins was the first game of the season against Georgia. In this game Watkins is targeted 9 times with 6 catches, and either one or two of the incomplete passes looking like drops. One was thrown behind him and one was thrown high, so they're questionable. Here is a look at the plays Watkins' was the main target and his overall stat line.

Play Yards Y.A.C.
Screen 5 5
Out 9 0
Slant 77, TD 65
Sweep(run) 0 N/A
Out INC N/A
Sweep(pass) 17 17
Screen 8 8
Out 13 2
Slant INC N/A
Screen DROP N/A
Sweep(run) 2 N/A

Receiving 6 Receptions 127 Yards 21.2 Yards per Catch 1 Touchdown 1 Drop 97 Yards after Completion
Rushing 2 Attempts 2 Yards 1 Yard per Carry 0 Touchdowns

What really jumps out from watching Watkins play is that he is a master at Yards after Completion. Clemson is able to realize this and put the ball in his hands on high percentage throws so they could sit back and let him do his thing. Watkins was only targeted in the intermediate range twice the entire game but was still able to put up gaudy numbers.

10/12 vs Boston College

Play Yards Y.A.C.
Comeback 21 7
Screen 3 3
Screen 5 5
Pivot 5 3
Slant 6 0
Deep In INC N/A
Streak (Right) 48 18
Screen DROP N/A
Comeback 13 4
Slant DROP N/A
Receiving 7 Receptions 101 Yards 14.4 Yards per Catch 1 Touchdown 2 Drops 40 Yards after Completion

This game against Boston college really gives a baseline for Sammy compared to his overall season statistics: About 7.75 catches per game, 112 yards for an average of 14.4 Yards per catch and  a touchdown. This game also showed that he can do a little bit more besides run screen passes as only 3 were thrown and a relatively small percentage of his yards came after completion. Watkins' strong suit isn't the intermediate range of the field, but he is able to perform well if he gets put in that position. The only downside I saw to this game was the 2 drops as both of them came on easily catchable balls.

1/3 vs Ohio State

Plays Yards Y.A.C.
Run Right 3 N/A
Screen 27 27
screen 6 6
Streak (Middle) 34 0
Screen 11 11
Screen 0 0
Sweep (pass) 29 29
Screen 13 13
Screen 10 10
Screen 12 12
Sweep (pass) 3 3
Screen 11 11
Streak (right) 30 0
Screen 14 14
Screen 9 9
Screen 13 13
Sweep (pass) 5 5
Receiving 16 Catches 227 Yards 14.2 Yards per Catch 2 Touchdowns 0 Drops 163 Yards after Completion
Rushing 1 Attempt 3 Yards 3 Yards per Carry 0 Touchdowns

And here we have the game that made me appreciate Sammy Watkins for what he really is: a receiver capable of tearing up a defense every time he gets the ball in his hands. While this is clearly the best game of the season for Watkins and it will be tough to put up these numbers in the NFL, it shows the skillset he is able to bring to the league. Watkins got the ball behind the line of scrimmage 15 times and yet was still able to carve the Buckeye's secondary for 166 yards on those plays. He also displayed the ability to take the top of the defense on to streak routes. The first he is able to speed past to get wide open for the touchdown, and the second he makes this spectacular catch:

Sammy_Watkins

While this gif doesn't show the entire route Watkins ran, it demonstrates his ability to not only make the back shoulder catch, it shows how he is able to stop his momentum on the route to get the ball at its high point and come down with the touchdown. If you pair Watkins with a quarterback able to make these throws, he will not disappoint in his ability to make a play.

Sammy Watkins is able to combine elite speed with the toughness to fight through the tackle. While he didn't have the fastest 40 time (his 4.43 was tied for 7th among all receivers) he is able to translate nearly all that speed to the playing field. Fast 40 times mean next to nothing if a player cant play fast and in control, but Sammy Watkins is able to do both of those excellently.

My only knock against him, as stated before, is that over 50% of his targets were behind the line of scrimmage. I feel like this was a by product of Clemson playing to his strengths a little too much rather than trying to put him in different positions to succeed. I think Jedd Fisch will be able to not only play to Watkins' strengths by getting the ball in his hands quick, but he will find creative ways to get him the ball in the intermediate range of the field. The potential is there, but he needs to make the most of those opportunities to be an elite talent.

Four months ago I hated Sammy Watkins, I hated the way he could burn Ohio State's defense seemingly effortlessly and I hated that he was able to make plays all over the field. After re-watching that game (it was painful) and two others, I can say with near certainty that the rest of the NFL is going to hate Sammy Watkins the way I did. He is a legitimately good wide receiver with talents that will translate extremely well to the NFL. He will fit in perfectly in the Jaguar's offense that is built to get the ball into their playmaker's hands. The NFL will hate Sammy Watkins, and that is exactly why I would be thrilled to see him in a Jaguars Jersey come May 8th.

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