The Oakland Raiders need playmakers on offense and after whiffing on DeSean Jackson, who signed a deal with the Washington Redskins on Tuesday, it's clear that the position of greatest need is wide receiver.
When the Philadelphia Eagles released Jackson, who is from Los Angeles and tore it up near Oakland as a California Bear, many thought his roots would lead him back to California and the cap-rich Raiders.
Jackson went to Washington early Monday for a meeting with the Redskins, who had no intentions of letting the dynamic receiver leave without a contract. Persistence—and partying with the boys—worked out, as the 'Skins and Jackson agreed to a deal, which Jackson confirmed with this Instagram pic.
Once Jackson was no longer an option, the Raiders again found themselves in need of a receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays. Free agent acquisition James Jones from Green Bay is a touchdown machine in the red zone and a solid, reliable receiver, but he is not fundamentally a big play guy.
With Watkins in the fold, opposing defensive coordinators would lose their hair deciding who their No. 1 corner should cover in the Raiders new-look offense.
Watkins going to the Raiders makes sense, but is by no means new thinking. Rob Rang of CBS.com has had Watkins being drafted by the Raiders for some time, but his most recent mock draft has the Raiders drafting Johnny Manziel. After his stellar Pro Day, Manziel has rocketed up some draft boards. In fact, Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar has Manziel going to Houston with the No. 1 pick in his most recent mock draft.
With Jadaveon Clowney and Manziel tearing up their pro days and seemingly cementing themselves at the top of the draft, and with Houston in need of a QB, the Rams in need of O-Line help and the Jags and Browns having needs everywhere, it is certainly possible Watkins makes it to the Raiders at No. 5. But there are no guarantees, and if Watkins is gone, the Raiders should look to trade down and acquire either a QB or WR Mike Evans from Texas A & M.
Many receivers have limited skill sets or niche abilities, but Watkins can be whatever you need him to be. He can be a deep threat, possession receiver, red zone target or just flat-out baller. He's a rare type of athlete, as he was quick to point out in a recent interview with Greg Papa and John Lund on their show The Wheelhouse:
But beyond that, he went on to state in the same interview that he also thinks in the game well and preparation is very important to him. He's confident that preparation will ensure he's ready to go when the season comes:
"I understand football and the preparation, so for me, it's getting in with the team I'm with and learn that playbook. ... I think after the first few games, I'll be definitely fine."
That confidence speaks volumes about the attitude he will bring to his NFL team.
The Raiders have not had a 1000 yard receiver since Randy Moss in 2005 and are desperate for someone who can make spectacular plays routinely and consistently. Watkins has shown time and again at Clemson that he can be that guy.
He's got good size at 6'1" and 210 pounds, incredible speed with a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine, huge hands at 9 5/8" and a catch radius about a mile wide. Those physical tools enabled Watkins to put up eye-popping numbers throughout his college career.
He had a particularly impressive 2013, when he posted 101 receptions, 1464 yards and 12 TDs. That would be remarkable for an NFL season, but when you consider he posted those numbers in 13 games, it's that much more impressive. Extrapolate his per game averages over a 16-game NFL season, just for fun, and you've got 124 catches for 1802 yards and 15 TDs. Very impressive.
And, like any great player does, Watkins saved his best performance for the biggest game of the season.
In the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl against Ohio State, he had the best game of his career—hauling in an incredible 16 catches for 227 yards and 2 TDs and setting Orange Bowl records for receptions and yardage, while leading his Tigers to a shootout victory over a strong Buckeyes squad.
NBC's Profootballtalk has touted Watkins as being the best NFL WR prospect since A.J. Green, and highly respected NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock absolutely raves about Watkins as a player, teammate and worker. Mayock says in this NFL AM video clip that Watkins is one of the best receivers he's seen on tape in a decade:
He's one of the best wide receivers I've seen on tape in the past ten years, and I think what separates him are two different things: one, his run after the catch and two, his toughness.
High praise indeed, but when you see tape of Watkins you realize it's not just hyperbole. It's the truth.
Talents like Watkins' come along rarely, and the Raiders have already had their Sam Bowie-Michael Jordan-esque franchise setback when they passed up Calvin Johnson for JaMarcus Russell in the 2007 NFL Draft.
If Watkins is there at No. 5, the Raiders absolutely cannot let him get away. He fills too many needs in a Raider offense that is lacking in speed and big-play ability, and the Raiders just can't pass up another incredibly talented playmaker and watch him dominate the rest of the NFL.