Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was considered the best wide receiver on the board prior to the scouting combine. Now he must be included in the first five picks after a sparkling display of his skill set in drills and workouts.
Watkins' already proved his mettle by hauling in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 scores as a junior. He made quarterback Tajh Boyd look like Joe Montana with his potent pass-catching.
Then he came to the scouting combine and floored everyone by proving that he's every bit as good as he looked during 2013 wearing Clemson Orange and Regalia.
Watkins posted a 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash, tied for seventh among receivers but still a very quick mark.
His unofficial time was nearly one-tenth of a second faster. He also flashed a 10'6" vertical leap and racked up 16 reps in the bench press, tied for ninth at his position.
But he is especially excellent once someone is actually throwing him the ball.
As noted by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Watkins has a pedigree for speed: "Watkins won the Florida state title in the 200 meters and came in second in the 100 meters as a senior in high school, so he’s long been known for his straight-line speed. More importantly, Watkins showed elite speed on the field in college."
Moreover, Watkins' 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown freshman season with the Tigers proved that he was ready for prime time even back then. Per Smith, Watkins "was just the fourth true freshman to be a first-team Associated Press All American, joining Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson."
Nolan Nawrocki's draft profile on NFL.com reads like a coaches' and general manager's wish list for a wideout:
Has world-class track speed. Extends outside his frame and plucks the ball. Outstanding body control and agility. Tracks the ball well over his shoulder and is a natural hands-catcher who can make an average quarterback look good. Consistently turns 2-yard gains into 15-yard chunks—possesses big-time playmaking ability and is very effective creating in the open field on bubble screens and quick-hitting short/lateral tosses. Superb run-after-the-catch ability. Good burst out of his cuts to separate. Has game-breaking return ability and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
The only minor knocks on his game are that his "routes could use some more polish," and he "could stand to improve ball security."
NFL teams at the top of the draft must recognize that Watkins has all the hallmarks of a once-every-few-years kind of wide receiver. With some coaching at the pro level, he should have the kind of immediate impact as a rookie that the Cincinnati Bengals got out of A.J. Green after drafting him fourth overall in 2011 (65 catches, 1,057 yards and seven TDs).
At the moment, there exists an approximate consensus on the top 10 players in the draft. Aside from Watkins, they are: Offensive tackles Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, linebackers Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
They make up NFLDraftScout.com's top 10 (via CBS Sports) and 10 of the top 11 picks for Mel Kiper's "Mock Draft 2.0" on ESPN (subscription required), which has the Detroit Lions reaching for a cornerback at No. 10.
The top-five picks in the the draft belong to the Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders in order. Complicating the scenario is that three of those teams need a franchise quarterback, and Clowney figures to go somewhere in the first five along with at least one of those offensive linemen.
Team needs will dictate position choice, but sometimes you have to select the best player on the board. With enough talent to become a perennial All-Pro, those five franchises cannot allow Watkins to slip away, or at very least they should trade down with some shrewder team that prizes Watkins' game-changing abilities.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.