In the year of the unpredictable quarterback, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins may be the safest pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
The 6'1" 211-pound Watkins had an outstanding junior season with the Tigers, catching 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He closed out his college career with 268 all-purpose yards in Clemson’s Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State and holds the school record for receptions and receiving yards.
As such, Watkins has generated plenty of buzz on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the draft as the top receiver in this year’s class.
Throughout his college career, Watkins demonstrated explosive speed after the catch and routinely turned short completions into long touchdowns. Plays like the one below show why Watkins is being projected as a high pick by everyone.
So where will Watkins end up in a draft that has been just about impossible to project? Although at least three of the teams (if not more) with picks No. 2 through 7 will be in the market for a quarterback, Watkins could go to any of them except the Atlanta Falcons.
Mike Mayock tends to have a solid grasp on what teams are thinking leading up to the draft, and there’s no way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would pass on stealing Watkins with the seventh pick should he indeed fall that far. The St. Louis Rams also have a lot of options at two and could create one of the more explosive receiver tandems in the league by pairing Watkins with Tavon Austin.
Still, Watkins’ potential landing spot remains a mystery with only six days until the draft. In fact, only Watkins seems to have an idea where he may end up.
That tweet suggests somebody likes Watkins enough to trade up for him. The Buffalo Bills are searching for a true No.1 receiver and a home run threat for E.J. Manuel, and would be a great fit.
Other trade options include the Detroit Lions, who could form a terrifying offensive juggernaut with Watkins, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, but they have other needs. If things get really crazy, the San Francisco 49ers have enough picks to trade way up to get Watkins, who could potentially be the one piece to push them over the top.
Whoever takes Watkins will be getting a well-rounded receiver who will be ready to contribute from day one.
Watkins’ best skill is his speed after the catch, as he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL.com, and has even better ability in the open field. If there’s a knock against Watkins, it's that his route-running and field awareness aren’t that developed, as Clemson’s offense depended on a lot on screens and short passes.
But a good offensive coordinator will be able to take advantage of Watkins’ existing skill set while giving him time to develop as a downfield threat.
All that means Watkins will be the first receiver selected next week.
His closest competition is probably Mike Evans out of Texas A&M. Evans might have more upside due to his pure physical prowess (6'5", 231 lbs), but Watkins has a more complete game as of now and is the far safer pick.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report gave Watkins a favorable NFL comparison:
While Greg A. Evans of Sports Illustrated believes Watkins may be a game-changer in a different way:
The above MMQB article details how Watkins will be in the rare position of being a receiver drafted in the top 10 while not being particularly physically dominant and how he could be the one to break the mold of how the NFL evaluates receivers. Watkins certainly has the tools to become an elite receiver without the physical ability of Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.
Watkins isn’t exactly small at 6'2" and has the ability to break tackles, as evidenced by the video near the top of the article. Andre Johnson and Julio Jones (both slightly larger than Watkins at 6'3") are two examples of top receivers who aren't totally physically dominant, and both are the type of player Watkins could compare to.
Regardless of where he is picked, Watkins is one of the top three talents in the draft and will be an immediate contributor wherever he goes. Watkins is already a developed, well-rounded talent who can be plugged in and give a team an instant home run threat.
If Watkins can add some more downfield skill in addition to his outstanding open-field ability, he will develop into a true No. 1 target with a chance to join the NFL’s elite.