By: Nick Trist
As I’ve stated earlier in the year, IES would be looking to bring you all the best NFL draft coverage possible heading into May and so far we’ve held to that. You all have met Zach earlier this year (who has done some excellent work on the draft as of late), now meet Nick Trist our latest collaborator to the IES community. Here in his first ever post, he gives a look at the best WR of the collegiate level in Sammy Watkins. As a Clemson fan, he told me it was only right that he started here. That said, enjoy folks!
Watkins and his dangerous speed/big play abilities are well-known throughout the college football universe and are the two skills that helped him to catch the eyes of NFL scouts dating back to his freshman year at Clemson. At the WR position, he possesses elite-level skills when the ball is in his hands. His acceleration and vision in the open field make him a threat every time he touches the football. His route-running has also improved immensely throughout the three years he spent with the Tigers as well. Furthermore, he has the size (at 6’1/205) to excel against man-coverage, which is increasing its’ popularity throughout the NFL. Since day one of stepping on Clemson’s campus Watkins has shown incredible hands, and I’d say that too is one of his best assets. When taking into consideration his good hands and his ability go get the ball at its’ highest point by out-leaping defenders, Watkins is unmatched by this years’ crop of WRs. In terms of stepping to the plate, he also performed extremely well on the biggest stages that he and his teammates faced this year. In the opener against then fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, Sammy went off for 6 catches with 127 yards and a momentum-swinging 77-yard touchdown catch. He saved his best effort for last with 16 receptions 227 yards and 2 TDs against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Orange Bowl.
There may be a few among those covering this year’s draft who will point to character as an area of concern when evaluating his “draft-stock”. Those who do, at least to me fall into one of the following categories: they’re small-minded or they haven’t done enough research. This video clip would be a good place to start the research on the character of Sammy Watkins; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa0GOTqJ7R0
His route-running, though improved, will need to be refined as personally I fell that he lacks a variety of “go-to” routes. A good portion of his success at Clemson was attributed to his capability to beat corners on the slant route as well as the go/streak/fly routes. He also dealt with a few nagging injuries during his sophomore season and given that Watkins doesn’t have the biggest frame by NFL WR standards, health concerns may be more of a red-flag for certain teams. Another flaw of his was his struggles (at times) against the more physical CBs of the ACC, as some opposing defenders were able to get into his pads at the line of scrimmage and force him off his route. The past two matchups against LeMarcus Joyner were examples of his struggles against press-man coverage. Lastly, a flaw of his is his woes as a punt/kick returner as he’s muffed a few handles in the kicking game during his college career, including getting benched from return duty in the UGA game. This may be a concern if there is a team out their looking to covet his skill-set to return duties.
Summary & NFL Player Comparison:
Watkins is one of the few players available in this year’s draft that has all but certainly locked up the title of “Best Player at His Position”. He is projected to be a top-ten pick and is a lock for a top slot on everyone’s big-board. To me, Watkins is one of the safest picks available and is likely to be one of the favorites for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award during the postseason. Look for Watkins to be a fixture on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays as well as part of an effective NFL passing game for the next decade or so.
In terms of comparison, Watkins reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald, with a little more straight line quickness, but a little less pure football-snagging ability. He is every bit the top-tier prospect as guys like Julio Jones and AJ Green.
Where Could He Land?
Some mock drafts project him going second overall to St. Louis. I think it would be a great pick for the Rams, but I see Jeff Fisher and Co. moving that pick to a team that is desperate to get a QB (sound familiar?). I don’t see any way he slips past pick #9 personally. That said, I think Tampa at #7 would love to give their young signal-caller a weapon as dangerous as Mr. Watkins. I also believe the Minnesota Vikings at #8 will have missed out on the QBs worthy of a 1st round selection, so the best idea may be to give whomever it is that ends up under-center for the Vikes, a young dynamic-duo at WR by pairing Watkins with last years’ first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson. The Buffalo Bills could also be looking to give their young QB another weapon as well as soften up opposing defenses for RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
My Most Ideal Landing Spot:
There is one team which will be picking well below the spot where Watkins will most likely be taken, but would certainly reach great heights with the addition of him. That team…. is the Carolina Panthers who are coming off a season in which they had a complete turnaround from the previous year. But as there NFC Divisional round game against the 49ers showed, their offense is still a work in progress that seems to lacks big play ability, with Steve Smith being the lone exception. Pairing Watkins with Smith would give Sammy the chance to learn from one of the better receivers in the last decade, and would be beneficial for Smith as well. Watkins would loosen up the coverage for Smith, and would help give the Panthers a much more balanced and potent offense. That said, ideally I wouldn’t mind seeing him there.
As always, we enjoy the reads and feedback. We also look forward to hearing your opinions via the comment section below. Also, feel free to give Nick your feedback and follow him via Twitter as you can find him under the handle of @Nickrawtrist .