Sammy Watkins has underachieved thus far in his career, but will he become a legitimate No.1 wide receiver this year?
Second-year and third-year breakouts are common for wide receivers. Sammy Watkins had at least 60 catches in each of his first two seasons after being drafted fourth overall in 2014, including topping 1,000 yards in his second season. But a true emergence has been elusive, as a foot issue derailed his 2016 season with the Bills and he struggled to find real footing with the Rams last year.
That didn’t stop the Kansas City Chiefs from making a significant investment in Watkins this offseason, with a three-year, $48 million contract in free agency. Andy Reid’s offense is notably complex, but Watkins is embracing the mental challenge.
This offense is the broadest offense I’ve ever been in, “It’s definitely a mental challenge, but I think that’s what kind of gets me up every day to study the plays and come out here encouraged because anybody can get the ball and I’ve got to learn all the positions.
Reid acknowledged moving Watkins around to take advantage of mismatches against linebackers and safeties, and overloading him as a result.
We’re moving him all over the place, and he’s handled it,” “We’ve overloaded him with that. That’s how we do it in this offense. That’s something new for him. You can tell he’s a guy that takes it away from here and studies. When we’re doing all these different formations, you’ve got to do that. You just can’t get it all when you’re here. You’ve got to go back and you’ve got to review, and he’s done that and he’s really limited the mistakes for all we’ve given him.
Through 19 seasons as an NFL head coach (2018 will be his 20th), Reid has had a top-10 scoring offense 11 times. Patrick Mahomes is taking over under center for Alex Smith this year, with just one start on his resume, but the second-year man can be considered an upgrade in many ways.
Watkins has averaged more than 15 yards per catch in all four of his NFL seasons, so his reputation as not much more than a deep threat precedes him. But with Reid’s help, he’s taking steps toward becoming a complete receiver.
He’s helped me in this short amount of time with just being a compete receiver, not just being [a receiver who just runs go-routes]. I’ve got to learn the whole route tree. The standard that he wants … he’s called me out in meetings. That’s what you want as a player. I take full advantage of all those things.
Watkins had just 39 receptions in 15 games for the Rams last year. But he salvaged some value with eight touchdown catches, as part of the best offense he’s been in thus far in his career.
Watkins’ draft pedigree diminishes the view of his per-season averages (763 yards and 6.25 touchdowns). But he hasn’t been complete dead-weight, and now he’ll combine an offensive-minded head coach with a potentially significant role for the first time in his career.
There a lot of mouths to feed in the Chiefs’ offense, and only five wide receivers have had a 1,000-yard season in Reid’s offense as a head coach (DeSean Jackson twice). Watkins could become the sixth guy to do it this year. But this side of Terrell Owens in 2004, the history of Reid’s offense says the odds of a push to being a target-monster No. 1 wide receiver in the way it’s thought of are slim.