Fantasy Football 2014: Best Landing Spots for WR Sammy Watkins' Fantasy Value

James ParadisContributor IIMay 6, 2014

Fantasy Football 2014: Best Landing Spots for WR Sammy Watkins' Fantasy Value

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    For the upcoming fantasy football season, top-tier wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins likely holds the greatest potential value of any offensive skill player in the 2014 NFL draft. However, his fantasy production as a rookie will largely depend upon where he ultimately lands.

    Nearly every projection and NFL scout views Watkins as a top-five pick in Thursday’s draft. While he will almost assuredly go off the board this early, any team could hypothetically trade up to grab Watkins for the right price.

    All but one team currently in the top five of the draft order has the need for wide receiver depth. Only the Houston Texans, currently holding the No. 1 overall pick, are essentially a lock to pass on Watkins—the Texans drafted Watkins’ former college teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, with their first-round pick in last year’s draft.

    Consensus opinion among most draft analysts has Watkins headed to Jacksonville (pick No. 3), Cleveland (pick No. 4) or Oakland (pick No. 5). However, a source extremely close to the three-time All-American receiver—Watkins himself—suspects a Julio Jones-esque trade-up scenario:

    I truly think a team going to jump up n grab me who it may be i know 😂

    — Sammy Watkins (@sammywatkins) April 29, 2014

    All those teams in top 10 might draft me but I been thinking outside the box interesting phone calls 😳😁😱😥

    — Sammy Watkins (@sammywatkins) April 29, 2014

    In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons gave up five draft picks to jump all the way from the 27th overall pick to grab Jones at pick No. 6. Such a blockbuster deal is rare; however, Watkins’ enticing, NFL-ready skill set might just be enough to merit such a trade.

    If a team, especially a potential Super Bowl contender, views Watkins as a transformational talent, there is always a price at which a deal can be done.

    Under the assumption that he could end up just about anywhere, let’s take a look at the five best landing spots to maximize Watkins’ fantasy value in 2014.

5. St. Louis Rams (2nd and 13th Overall Picks)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    St. Louis Rams Wide Receiver Depth Chart

    1. Chris Givens
    2. Austin Pettis
    3. Brian Quick
    4. Tavon Austin
    5. Kenny Britt

     

    In Matt Miller’s final mock draft, he veers from the general analyst consensus, sending Watkins to St. Louis with the second overall selection—that is, if no other team makes a trade for the pick, which Miller sees as a likely possibility.

    Though the Rams’ needs are many, they’ve failed to find a true No. 1 receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford. Despite using last year’s first-round pick on diminutive burner Tavon Austin, in addition to five other picks on wide receivers since 2011, the team still has a hole at the position.

    St. Louis is one of two landing spots on this list where Watkins would likely step in instantly as the team’s top target. Bradford, while not the most elite quarterback in the NFL, has good accuracy and a quick release on the football—qualities that cater well to Watkins' ability to catch short passes and cut up the field for big gains.

    A muddled Rams wide receiver depth chart could sort itself out nicely with Watkins at the top. His fantasy value would be somewhat limited in a perennially mediocre St. Louis offense that faces elite NFC West defenses six times a year. Still, the opportunity to stand out from the pack makes this an intriguing fit.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7th Overall Pick)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver Depth Chart

    1. Vincent Jackson
    2. Chris Owusu
    3. Louis Murphy

     

    If drafted by Tampa Bay, Watkins would quickly become the team’s unquestioned starter opposite Vincent Jackson. The Bucs’ wide receiver depth took a major hit this offseason, as Tampa Bay lost Mike Williams to Buffalo and Tiquan Underwood to Carolina.

    The other seven wide receivers currently on the team’s roster totaled 25 receptions in 2013. At 31 years old, 10th-year stud Jackson is entering the final year of his contract with Tampa Bay. Clearly, the team has a dire need at the wide receiver position.

    While several expert mock drafts project Tampa Bay selecting Texas A&M’s Mike Evans with its first pick, Watkins is the most surefire replacement for Jackson should the team decide to part ways with the aging veteran in 2015.

    Others see Watkins and the Bucs as a realistic pairing. According to draft analysts at NFL.com, “the Bucs could like Watkins enough to pick up the phone and call the Rams to discuss a trade for the second overall pick…they can get the best receiver in this draft in the explosive Sammy Watkins.”

    With recently added quarterback Josh McCown assuming starting duties in 2014, Tampa Bay suddenly has an experienced and fundamentally sound passer leading the offense. The 13-year pro proved in Chicago that he can sustain the fantasy value of multiple elite receiving options.

    With McCown at the helm and star running back Doug Martin back in action, the Bucs offense should be markedly improved after a rocky 2013. Adding a high-impact starter at wide receiver would significantly contribute to this improvement. If the team makes the bold move to trade up for Watkins, he should be able to step right in and be consistently productive for his fantasy owners.

3. Carolina Panthers (28th Overall Pick)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Depth Chart

    1. Jason Avant
    2. Jerricho Cotchery
    3. Tiquan Underwood
    4. Tavarres King

     

    You knew they had to be on the list somewhere.

    The Panthers bid farewell this offseason to every single wide receiver who caught a pass for the team in 2013, including All-Pro Steve Smith after spending 13 seasons in Carolina. Though the team did add three veteran receivers, ideally none of those players would serve as the Panthers’ No. 1 or even No. 2 starting wideout.

    Understandably, Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton, would like to see the team go up in the draft and get an instant impact guy like Watkins, according to CNN's Nischelle Turner:

    Panthers QB Cam Newton (in a walking boot) told me surgery went well & will be ready 4 the season. Also says @sammywatkins is his 1st pick!

    — Nischelle Turner (@nischelleturner) May 4, 2014


    While Carolina’s newly signed free agents should be useful possession receivers, Watkins would bring an entirely new dynamic to the offense. The former track star’s speed and versatility would almost undoubtedly make him Newton’s No. 1 target. Of every team on this list, the Panthers' situation seems to offer Watkins the most prominent role as a rookie.

    To acquire him, it would require a similar jump (and likely a similar price) to the one the Falcons made for Jones. In this case, Carolina’s current needs at the position vastly outweigh those of Atlanta when it made the trade in 2012. The question is whether or not “Riverboat Ron” and Co. are willing to make the gamble.

2. Detroit Lions (10th Overall Pick)

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    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    Detroit Lions Wide Receiver Depth Chart

    1. Calvin Johnson
    2. Golden Tate
    3. Kris Durham
    4. Ryan Broyles

     

    Several offseason rumors project the Lions as a team likely to trade up for Watkins. The team courted him this offseason, hosting the talented prospect for a predraft visit. New Lions head coach Jim Caldwell also joined Watkins for a pre-pro-day dinner.

    According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Watkins believes he would thrive as a Lion:

    It’d be definitely a blessing playing with Megatron and Golden Tate, having Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford…If I ever go there, sky’s the limit…You don’t know what team’s jumping up for the first pick, anybody can be jumping, so who knows? You never know.

    If Detroit were to make this move up in the draft, Watkins would immediately challenge newcomer Golden Tate for the coveted No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Calvin Johnson.

    While Tate steadily improved throughout his four-year career with the Seattle Seahawks, he’s simply not in the same class as Watkins. The rookie receiver is bigger, more explosive, more athletic, has better hands and can make plays anywhere on the field.

    Both players are quick and strong with solid route-running skills and an ability to make plays after the catch, although Watkins may also have the edge in each of those categories.

    Considering Tate just joined the team in free agency, he should not hold much of an advantage over Watkins in terms of team chemistry. Both players are new to the Lions’ playbook, and neither has an established on-field relationship with quarterback Matthew Stafford. If the decision for the second starting spot comes down to a training camp battle, the smart money should be on Watkins.

    Playing alongside Calvin Johnson would also have its perks for Watkins’ fantasy value. There’s not a defensive back in football, short of a healthy Darrelle Revis, who can attempt to play man coverage on Megatron. Combined with the threat of Detroit’s explosive run game, defenses would only be able to give so much attention to Watkins.

    If the Lions announce Watkins name on Thursday, prepare for fantasy fireworks in 2014.

1. New England Patriots (29th Overall Pick)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots Wide Receiver Depth Chart

    1. Julian Edelman
    2. Danny Amendola
    3. Aaron Dobson
    4. Kenbrell Thompkins
    5. Brandon LaFell
    6. Josh Boyce

     

    The Patriots have not had tremendous success finding starting wide receivers in the draft. Their most notable pick at the position in the past decade is 2009 seventh-round selection Julian Edelman—currently No. 1 on the depth chart.

    Of the many, many reasons to praise future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick, finding wide receiver value in the draft is definitely not one of them.

    The team did use an early-round pick in 2013 on the debatably talented Aaron Dobson, New England’s highest pick of a wide receiver since it took Chad Jackson (who?) in the second round of the 2006 draft. Jackson started one game in his brief three-year career.

    It is unfortunate for Watkins’ future fantasy owners that he is unlikely to call Foxborough his home. The price New England would have to pay to trade up for Watkins is likely too rich for Belichick’s blood, as he has not been one to trade up often in drafts.

    However, if the Patriots shocked the league and went after Watkins, his fantasy stock would soar. We’ve seen what a marriage between quarterback Tom Brady and a top-tier wideout can look like, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

    This is not to say that Watkins is the next Randy Moss—though the potential for the polished prospect to hit the ground running as a rookie, as Moss did, is entirely possible. With Brady’s favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, perpetually on the mend, the team is without a true No. 1 receiving weapon.

    A connection between Brady and Watkins in New England has by far the greatest potential for fantasy gold in 2014.