No one has ever questioned the talent that Sammy Watkins possesses and has displayed at the highest level in the NFL. He is one of the top receivers in the NFL and people seem to forget how young he is considering he’s now on his third team. At 25 years old, he still has the possibility of a long career ahead of him and Brett Veach saw that an off-season ago and pulled the trigger to bring Watkins to KC. It was no small feat to bring him in and in order to do so, Veach had to hand him a three year $48 million contract that most fans, and one notable website manager, are still unhappy with.
In 2018, Watkins played in ten regular season games, really only eight as he didn’t finish games against the Rams and Broncos, and had 40 receptions on 55 targets for 519 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers do look rather pedestrian but projected over the season, including the postseason, he would have amassed over 1,100 yards had he played in every game. Watkins faced an uphill battle fighting for targets behind Hill, Kelce and Hunt to start the season, but when he got seven or more targets he produced. Watkins had seven games with seven or more targets, oddly enough, and he averaged 84 yards a game. In hindsight, it would seem Sammy needed to see more targets but let’s see what the film has to say.
In Andy Reid’s offense, the wide receivers are easily tasked with the most to learn, outside of a quarterback. The amount of routes, formations, and motions involved in learning a Reid offense is something I can’t wrap my head around. So coming into the season in 2018 he still had a bit to learn in terms of the offense but looking at his natural abilities is the biggest reason that Veach and Reid wanted Watkins on this team. He runs some of the best routes in the league and his footwork is just impressive.
Sammy is excellent at breaking down a corner, here you can see him start chopping his feet, as soon as the corner opens up his hips a tiny bit Sammy accelerates by him and doesn’t look back pic.twitter.com/7S5YfSo9YB— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
This is the first game of the season, and although he didn’t do much in terms of statistics, he found himself open more often than Mahomes could find him. Watkins understands corners movements and knows how to capitalize on subtleties that otherwise may go unnoticed. Here, Watkins breaks down the corner by chopping his feet and forcing the corner to guess which way he’s going to go from his break. The moment the corner opens his hips slightly to prevent Watkins from getting to the boundary, he accelerates up field right by the corner and is running open down the field.
It’s difficult to see from the coaches film, it is a bit grainier than watching it live, but as Watkins begins accelerating, the corner attempts to get his hands on Watkins to slow him down. But he slaps the corners hands away very quickly and does so without skipping a beat. These small things, getting hands off of him and noticing hip direction, help Watkins understand who has the leverage in any given situation. He can manipulate corners by breaking them down and finding ways around them in one on one situations and that allows him to be successful and get open. After he has the ball in his hands, that’s when he turns into a running back.
Watkins shows off his awareness and RAC ability here. The CB closes on him, but he spins off the tackle then accelerates into the open field. Making defenders miss on his way to another big gain pic.twitter.com/z0bQykVW16— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
Oh and he just so happens to turn into a running back with the field in front of him. Speed, Vision, acceleration, and elusiveness. Dangerous combination pic.twitter.com/gPTfBTfGSa— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
Watkins has the size, speed, and skill in the open field to create yards after the catch (YAC), and he became a big problem against the Steelers in the second game of the season. The short catch above displays his awareness in knowing how long it will take the defender to close on his position before he makes the catch. As he catches the ball, he immediately turns to his left and forces the missed tackle. After that he is in the open field, and both clips show his elusiveness when he has room to work. He shows off a little jump cut in the first clip and the ability to navigate traffic in the second clip. His speed and acceleration are always on display and paired with his elusiveness make him a nightmare with the ball in his hands.
One of the biggest reasons that the Chiefs brought in Watkins is to create matchup problems. They saw the potential with Hill, Kelce, Watkins, and Mahomes, the ultimate cheat code. The Chiefs utilized more five-wide formations that they ever had before and here is the reason they did it.
This offense is built for Sammy and Co to succeed. Watkins and Hill are lined up to the left, three to the right and those three draw the FS. Watkins being in the slot draws the DE Watt in coverage. Creates a mismatch, but mahomes just misses the TD pic.twitter.com/RkInvf4xV6— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
The Steelers weren’t ready for the problems created by this offense and it showed on plays like this. They have a single high deep safety and are playing man coverage across the board, and rushing five to the quarterback. The Chiefs are five wide with Hill and Watkins lined up to the left and three receivers lined up to the right. The three receivers draw the attention of the deep safety and that’s a problem. Watkins is in the slot and that draws the mismatch with T.J. Watt covering him. I don’t have to tell you that Watkins was licking his chops as he saw Watt line up to cover him. Watt has no shot in keeping up with Watkins in a footrace and Mahomes just misses Watkins in the endzone for a touchdown.
Watkins was starting to get the hang of the offense and developing a report with Mahomes and then the unfortunate happens. Watkins has been hampered lately in his career with foot injuries and he’s missed time due to it. He has a stigma associated with injuries and how often he is hurt, and for good reason. He missed eight games in 2016 as a Bill then he played in 15 games as a Ram the following year dealing with foot injuries that caused him to be less effective as a player. He did manage to catch eight touchdowns that season, though. Then in 2018 he only really played in eight regular season games again with yet another foot injury.
When it comes to Watkins injuries have been a big part of his career in the last three seasons. As unfortunate as it is that he’s being paid like a top-five receiver in the league while also missing eight games last year, the Chiefs bet on him being healthy and helping them win a Super Bowl. When it comes down to it, the Chiefs are going to be at or near the top of the standings as long as Mahomes is the quarterback of the Chiefs. So having Watkins for the playoff run is essential to his contract value. Sure enough, they had him for the 2018 playoff run and he did not disappoint.
Watkins creates a bit of separation at the top of his route, but Mahomes buys more time and then he breaks away from Gilmore. Backyard football is Mahomes’ game and Watkins has the speed and skills to make big plays in this offense for years pic.twitter.com/McbTifmupv— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
Watkins had 16 targets for ten receptions and 176 yards in the two playoff games last season. He made sure to come back healthy and be effective when it mattered most for the Chiefs. He was essential in the AFC Championship game and helped the Chiefs come back to make it a game they should have won. On this play, Watkins is going to run a deep “in” route and Gilmore is in press coverage. He breaks down Gilmore then releases to the inside again. Notice the attempt to get hands on Watkins but his swat is fast and doesn’t allow contact. He breaks to the inside, creating the initial separation needed to allow a throw, but Mahomes starts buying time to his right. After that, it’s all improv. Watkins remembers from earlier in his route that the safety is not playing deep so he cuts up-field after realizing Mahomes is buying time and that’s when he finds Watkins running open downfield. With a flick of his wrist, he hits Watkins in stride for a huge gain. Gilmore did well to recover and prevent a TD on this play, even though Watkins nearly regained his balance at the end.
We all know Mahomes’ “backyard” style at times and Watkins has shown that he is game when it comes to improvising and finding big plays. Everything early in his route sets up for the separation he creates at the top of the route and that allowed him to get vertical and be wide open. His attention to detail after the ball is snapped was also impressive, knowing where everyone is on the field is a great skill to have as a receiver. Watkins was regularly beating the Patriots’ defensive backs and it started to frustrate them.
Sammy was routinely beating Pats CBs in coverage and on this drive alone forced two penalties including this one. They were clearly frustrated, as Chung throws Watkins to the ground pic.twitter.com/LkcHxwKep0— Daniel Harms (inharmsway19) (@D_Harms19) June 11, 2019
On this drive alone, Watkins drew two penalties against the Patriots and the corner just couldn’t handle it in a cool manner anymore. He throws Watkins to the ground and is called for another penalty. Watching this game and seeing Watkins find himself open as often as he was, it makes sense that the Patriots just wanted him to not get open. Seeing their frustration like that excites me for watching him own them again in 2019.
I know that looking at his contract is difficult to stomach, it is for me too. I’m not a fan of having to overpay for free agents like general managers have to in the free agent era of the NFL. But it’s just a fact of the off-season now. Identifying players that you believe will greatly improve your team and ensuring they will land with you has gotten pricey. But Watkins gave the Chiefs a dimension they didn’t have in previous years. When teams were able to limit Hill and Kelce, which granted didn’t happen much, Watkins was open. He was open a good number of times in the games I reviewed and when he was injured, the team noticed a drop off in the pass game. Robinson and Conley were not getting open very often and the team missed Watkins skill set for sure.
Watkins is a great receiver, there is no doubt about it. He has no true weaknesses in his game, but uncontrollable injuries get in the way of him being a truly elite player in terms of production. If the Chiefs are going to win a Super Bowl in the next few years Watkins will be a big part of that, and with Hill not currently being allowed at team activities, he is getting an opportunity to improve his report with Mahomes. Something that will not hurt in the slightest. I am looking forward to seeing him in red and gold this coming season. I believe he’s going to have a great year, assuming he’s healthy.