Remember the 1993 film entitled, In the Line of Fire starring Clint Eastwood? In this film Eastwood plays the role of a secret-service agent, haunted by events he was powerless to prevent, November 22nd 1963. Unfortunately, the date I’ll never expurgate from my memory is April 25th 2009, when Percy Harvin, the protean NFL aspirant with fictive celerity plummeted to the later portion of round one.
While positive marijuana tests along with perceived character and health concerns contributed to the depreciation of Harvin’s stock, he was largely criticized for not having run a full NFL route tree during his time at Florida with Urban Meyer. Scouts and talent evaluators also had questions about his ability to catch the football through contact and whether or not his ability to contribute as a running back would transfer to the NFL.
As a secret-service agent and protector of Harvin’s stock, I remained unfazed and continued to promote him as a top-ten talent in the 2009 NFL draft. Sadly, NFL decision-makers did not see Harvin through the rose-colored lenses I did which lead to him falling to the Minnesota Vikings at pick No. 22. While the NFL draft can be a rather abstruse subject, it was difficult to accede with Harvin’s draft slot. An even more burdensome reality to contend with was the idea that I failed him by not educating others as to why his skillset warranted top-ten consideration.
Armed with greater understanding of the pre-draft process and dedicated to the enterprise of illustrating prospect implementation, I have successfully defended the likes of Julio Jones, Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson (though he should’ve been taken earlier), in subsequent drafts. Recently there’s been an influx of negative opinions among NFL draft pundits regarding Watkins. As protector of his stock, it is clearly up to me to step in front of these fiery bullets and educate others to the best of my ability.
Please see below list of strengths and weakness for Sammy Watkins.
Watkins is very underrated in this area and is a big reason he is rated as the third-best player overall on my board. Watkins catches the ball extremely well outside of his frame and through contact. He will highpoint the football when necessary.
I’ve been saying for quite some time that Watkins is the fastest player to top-end speed from a static start since Harvin. I’m aware of his agility tests at the combine but they are not reflective of what you see on film. Outside of Harvin, his suddenness is unrivaled.
Watkins has high school personal records in the 100-meter dash of 10.45 and 21.1 in the 200-meter dash. Not only does he have tremendous acceleration, he’s got great long speed as well.
Watkins possess the ability to contribute at multiple positions on the offensive side of the ball. He also has the desire to prove himself beyond capable at the X,Y,Z receiver and running back position as well. As was the case with Harvin, critics wonder if Watkins ability to contribute out of the backfield will translate to the NFL. Well again, the answer is yes! Watkins has a nice pick-slide action that allows him to let blocks develop which translates to the next level extremely well.
- Run After Catch
Classic criticism of Watkins is, “he’s a straight-line runner, he doesn’t make anyone miss.” If this were an accurate assessment of his ability, 1,044 yards after the catch would not have been possible. Obviously, Watkins is making defenders miss. He has the ability to freeze defenders by merely decelerating and reaccelerating, which changes angles and enables him to get on the edge of tackles. He’s not Peter Warrick in terms of elusiveness (not many are), but his ability to make defenders miss or break tackles is right on par with Harvin.
Watkins runs behind his pads with strength and determination especially behind the line of scrimmage. His legs do not go dead on contact as evidenced by the Maryland game. He also fights through contact at the point of the catch. His film shows that he has functional strength that was later confirmed by a very solid performance at the combine on the bench press as he completed 16 reps. of 225 Lbs.
- Route Running
There are routes that Watkins will have to get more accustomed to running in the NFL as they weren’t a large part of his college offense. With that said, he ran routes such as hitch & go, dig, post, corner and post/corner to perfection. He does exceptionally well with double moves and knows how to vary his speed in an effort to set up his defender. Deception at the receiver position is rarely discussed but Watkins has used this to become a better route runner in his three years at Clemson.
An attribute often overlooked at the wide receiver position is intelligence. While Clemson’s offense has been described as “gimmicky,” Watkins was asked to read defenses and adjust his routes on the fly. Though route combinations will be different at the next level, he is well adept at identifying coverage and adjusting accordingly. Dabo Swinney once said, “We have kids that are every bit as physically gifted as Sammy, but as a freshman he demonstrated mastery at the receiver position that we hadn’t seen. Sammy came to us ready.”
A very good stalk blocker, Watkins is able to extend his arms and get into his defenders breastplate and drive him backwards just long enough to keep him out of the play. He was also asked to crack down on linebackers on occasion. Watkins comes off the ball the same each time, whether he’s blocking of running a route. Showing the same intensity as a blocker and receiver makes life difficult on defensive backs and it’s clear that Watkins knows the more intensity he shows as a blocker, the more affective he can be as a receiver.
Watkins must do a better job coming back to the football. This means he must hasten his feet, eliminate false steps, sink his hips plant, pivot and work his way back to the quarterback. Each step must be with a purpose and once he understands that, he’ll be much better getting out of his breaks.
On crossing patterns and screens, Watkins has had some focus drops, particularly early in his collegiate career. It seems as though he has become much better in this area, however he’ll still take his eye off the ball prior to looking it in completely which can lead to drops.
- Decision Making
Watkins is a tough player to bring down with the football in his hands. However he initiates more contact than I would like to see for a player his size. I love his grit, determination and willingness to fight for additional yardage, but he must learn to live to play another down and not take unnecessary punishment.
Likely Landing Spots
There are many teams that should strongly consider selecting Sammy Watkins in the 2014 NFL draft, however I have chosen five teams that I think would make excellent homes for him.
If the pairing of Austin and Watkins doesn’t invoke memories of The Greatest Show on Turf, I don’t know what will. With Austin and Watkins, the Rams would have two receivers that are capable of scoring touchdowns from any of the wide receiver positions as well as out of the backfield.
The Raiders are hurting for offensive playmakers, especially since they are planning to release their best one in quarterback Terrelle Pryor. They are lacking receivers that can strike fear in the hearts of defenses and Watkins certainly fits the bill. The Raiders’ offensive line does not hold well at the point of attack and outside of Denarius Moore and Brice Butler the receivers have a hard time getting separation consistently.
Last year the Vikings made a step in the right direction selecting Cordarelle Patterson with the 29th pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Just as the Rams have Austin who could team up with Watkins in the backfield if he were to go there, the Vikings have Patterson who possesses the ability to contribute from the running back position as well.
The Vikings red zone woes are well chronicled as they’re ranked 19th in the league in efficiency. Vikings’ coaches and personnel decision makers would like to improve in the red zone. With players like Watkins and Patterson on the field who can cover yardage in the blink of an eye, the double reverse could have a high level of success considering the talent involved.
Could you imagine, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush and Sammy Watkins all on the field together at once? The offensive coordinator that gets handed the keys to that talent must not be afraid of excellence and must be a progressive minded coach. So much fun and functionality can be had with the abovementioned players between the 20s.
On this particular play “X” (Johnson) runs a five-step hitch with option to burst outside vs. press-man corner squatting on the hitch. The “Y” receiver (Watkins) will run a corner route taking eight steps, seven up field, and stick on the eighth step, bursting out high at a 45-degree angle. Utilizing the smash concept with Calvin Johnson drawing so much attention his way forces defenses to have to pick their poison. Running back (Reggie Bush) will run tag route, which puts the linebackers in a bind as well.
While I am sure there are plenty of other teams that are interested in Watkins as well as plenty other ways to utilize his skillset, I thought I’d take the time out to highlight a few teams and how they could implement him. Through this piece, I hope that I have successfully defended Sammy Watkins and his detractors understand why he is worthy of being selected within the top-five picks of the 2014 NFL draft.
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