Last year, the three-time All-American had 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He owns the Clemson University record for career receptions with 240.
He ended his college career in spectacular fashion. He won the Orange Bowl MVP after setting Orange Bowl records with 16 receptions and 227 yards in Clemson's 40-35 victory over Ohio State.
Watkins has all the measurables. He's 6'1", 211 pounds, and he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. He's got huge hands and knows how to use them to catch the football, instead of using his body.
In an interview on 104.5 FM in Nashville before the draft, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell gave Watkins high praise:
I think you could make the argument that he's the best wide receiver to come out since the A.J. Green, Julio Jones, 2011 draft. He's got size, speed, hands, shiftiness, explosion. I think that Sammy Watkins is hands-down the best receiver in this draft.
Watkins compares more favorably to Jones because of his versatility. Like Jones, Watkins excels in the screen game and can make plays when lined up in the backfield. Watkins did a lot of this at Clemson under Chad Morris' up-tempo offense.
Some question Watkins' ability to transition from Morris' no-huddle, college offense to the more structured, in-depth offenses of the NFL. It will be an adjustment for Watkins, but in an interview with Eric Edholm of Yahoo!, Watkins talked about the Bills' offense, and the transition may not be as drastic as previously thought:
Our goal is to go fast, run a lot of plays, and go as quickly as possible.
We’re going to throw the ball. But I can get it in other ways, and we’re going to run it well, too. We’ve been working a lot on third downs in OTAs. We know we have to convert those in order to be a great team and a complete [offense]. We know we can do it. It all there for us.
Sounds a lot like Clemson doesn't it? Of course, saying you're going to run an offense one way and actually doing it are different things. Still, it's a positive sign for Watkins that the Bills are attempting to run an offense similar to one that brought him so much success in college.
Another concern is the Bills' inexperience. Quarterback E.J. Manuel is in just his second year, and with the departure of Stevie Johnson, there isn't much of a veteran presence in the Bills' wide receiving corps.
The veteran receiver issue was addressed when the Bills brought in Mike Williams from Tampa Bay, but the quarterback is still a concern. Watkins spoke about his on-field relationship with Manuel in an interview with Alex Flanagan on NFL Total Access:
It's not fully there. I mean, we've been connecting at minicamp, and OTAs. But at the same time, I could be wide open, and if he don't feel it, or if I run it a different type of way, he won't throw the ball.
So it really just got to come with him believing in me. I believe in him. He can throw just about any ball. So it just comes down to ... we just need a lot of reps.
Not the most encouraging words in the world, but as long as Manuel can avoid injury and stay on the field, the connection should develop.
The extra preseason game the Bills have by playing in the Hall of Fame game may help, but Watkins may not fully develop into a dynamic playmaker until his second year in the league.
Watkins' first season will most likely be an up-and-down one where one minute you see a flash of brilliance, and the next you see him and Manuel not on the same page about which route he was supposed to run.
However, there is no doubt that Watkins will be a premier wide receiver within two to three years. He has the work ethic and the talent to succeed.
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