After a season in which no Buffalo Bills wide receiver had more than 600 yards, the team clearly needed help at the position. They got that help—in a big way—by trading up in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft to select Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
Widely regarded as the best wide receiver in this year’s draft class, Watkins is an explosive vertical threat who can take the top off defenses with his speed, is dynamic in the open field and runs terrific routes.
A big-play threat every time he touches the ball, Watkins has a skill set that will certainly help a Bills offense that needed a spark. He will have to meet high expectations, nonetheless, to justify the cost of the trade Buffalo made to get him.
An Offensive "Triple Threat"
A 6’1”, 211-pound wideout who runs a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and accelerates like an Olympic sprinter, Watkins has all of the tools to emerge as a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL.
He will immediately, along with fellow Clemson product C.J. Spiller, become one of Buffalo’s most dynamic offensive weapons. In addition to his ability to make plays as a downfield receiver, he can also be used a gadget-play runner and return specialist.
He compares favorably to Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 2,020 all-purpose yards in his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings last year. He has a similar combination of size, athletic ability and strength to run through contact, yet is a more skilled receiver who has much more expansive route-running ability and tracks the ball more effectively downfield.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, as seen in the video below, thinks Watkins could be the NFL’s next A.J. Green, who was also a No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
What Will Watkins’ Role Be in Buffalo?
The Bills wouldn’t have traded up to the No. 4 overall pick if they didn’t expect Watkins to immediately emerge as the go-to pass-catcher on their offense.
Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are a solid pair of starters, but getting Watkins into the lineup alongside them shouldn’t be a problem. Buffalo used three-receiver offensive sets more often than not in Nathaniel Hackett’s first year as offensive coordinator, and like Johnson and Woods, Watkins also has the all-around skill set and versatility to line up both outside and in the slot.
Having also added veteran wide receiver Mike Williams in a trade earlier this offseason, the Bills' passing offense is looking far more dangerous—especially on the outside—than they did last season. Factor dynamic second-year speedster Marquise Goodwin into the mix, and the Bills will be able to mix and match weapons to keep defenses guessing this season.
Specifically to Watkins, Hackett needs to be creative. Given Watkins' big-play ability and the investment the team has made in him, Buffalo’s offensive coaching staff should immediately get to work in coming up with as many plays and packages as possible to get the ball into his hands.
By putting a receiver as dangerous as Watkins is on the outside, the Bills will force defenses to constantly account for him. If defenses put extra defenders on Watkins’ side of the field to account for his big-play threat, it could open up lanes for Johnson, Woods, Williams and Buffalo’s other offensive skill-position players to get open.
The Bills would also be smart to use him as a punt returner, considering the struggles Robert Woods and Nickell Robey had in that capacity this past season, and he could pair with Marquise Goodwin on kickoff returns as well.
Is Watkins Worth the Price of the Trade?
Expectations are going to be very high for Watkins from the beginning, and he is going to have to live up to them quickly, and for the long term, to justify Buffalo’s investment in him.
Had the Bills stayed put, they still would have been in a position to draft a talented wideout in LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. or the best playmaking tight end in the draft in North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. Watkins is a more talented player than either of them, but the Bills have made it clear that they expect him to be one of the NFL’s premier receivers in short order.
Ultimately, the worthiness of the trade will be in part determined by how high the Bills’ 2015 first-round selection ends up being. At the very least, Watkins gives Buffalo a better chance to have a better record, and therefore end up with a lower spot in the draft order, by adding a much-needed spark to the Buffalo offense and, specifically, its receiving corps.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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