As arguably the most explosive offensive playmaker in the 2014 NFL draft class, former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was already going to be a potential target for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will select No. 3 overall in Thursday's opening round.
But after Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell made waves on Friday by acknowledging that the team isn't counting on suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon to play a key role in 2014, per The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran, Watkins has now become an ideal target for the downtrodden franchise:
Caldwell -- "It's not something we're counting on. ... relatively surprised" -- re Blackmon playing in 2014.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) May 2, 2014
Ian Rapoport adds some more discouraging news:
#Jaguars GM David Caldwell said on WR Justin Blackmon, he’d be “relatively surprised" if he was playing in 2014. Not promising.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 2, 2014
Blackmon was suspended by the NFL indefinitely last November after violating the league's policy and program for substance abuse, according to the team's official website.
Following the announcement last fall, Caldwell released a statement regarding Blackmon's penalty and status with the team, per Jaguars.com:
His suspension will provide him the opportunity to receive the attention and professional treatment necessary to overcome his challenges, and we will support him during this time. The Jacksonville Jaguars will evaluate Justin's status once he has successfully met the criteria to be considered for reinstatement to the league.
Although the Jaguars, who went 4-12 a year ago, have big needs at quarterback and running back, among other spots, without Blackmon, Jacksonville's wide receiving corps is decimated. And while the St. Louis Rams could potentially take Watkins at No. 2, the Jaguars would appear to be in solid shape to land him at No. 3.
Plus, with no can't-miss quarterback prospects out there this spring, the Jaguars could address that need in one of the later rounds.
At No. 3, Watkins would provide tremendous, value as he'd be among the best players on the board. His versatility and impressive production (101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013) certainly support that assumption.
In early April, Watkins discussed his talents with 95.7 The Game, expressing immense confidence in his ability to transition from college to the NFL, via ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez:
I have some freakish talents and ability to make plays. I can jump, run catch, make somebody miss. That's my game.
I'm able to transition myself and work through tough conditions. I understand football and the preparation, so for me, it's getting in with the team I'm with and learn that playbook. That's all I need to do is really learn that playbook, and after that, just adjusting to the speed of the game and how cornerbacks play in the NFL.
That would be the next step. I think after the first few games I'll be definitely fine.
Watkins certainly has the talent to make an immediate impact at the next level, even for a team like the Jaguars. His production last season at Clemson was outstanding, and his big-play ability is second to none in terms of this year's draft prospects, as hinted at by Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller:
Can't wait to see where @sammywatkins is drafted. Will be a fun summer writing about how his new team will use him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 2, 2014
At 6'1", 211 pounds, Watkins possesses a frame almost identical to Blackmon's (6'1", 210 lbs) and boasts all of the same physical gifts.
If he can improve his route-running skills, Watkins' potential appears limitless, as he routinely displays phenomenal hands and does an excellent job of separating from defenders.
And if Blackmon can eventually make his way back onto the field for Jacksonville, he could combine with Watkins to form one of the league's more dynamic receiving duos.
Although there's no guarantee that Watkins will avoid running into trouble off the field and prove to be more reliable than Blackmon, he's clearly grown a lot since his suspension back in 2012. On top of that, Watkins' potential and versatility simply make him too good to pass up for a team with as many holes on offense as the Jaguars.
Watkins can't fill them all, but his playmaking instincts will help cover them up.
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