The Chiefs, as you well know, have a litany of weapons on offense and none more underappreciated than Sammy Watkins. I wrote about his 2018 season here at AG, and as you can see there has always been the caveat of him being healthy. But because of that, people tend to forget how good he really is.
Watkins broke out into the 2019 season set on reminding everyone just how good he really is and why he should be respected as a weapon on offense. Not only is he in the best shape of his life, but this is the first time in three years that he is playing in the same system as the previous year. He is comfortable in the system and has the best quarterback in the NFL throwing him the ball. Watkins is going to have the best season in his career, and the unfortunate injury to Hill may help funnel more targets his way as the beginning of the season unfolds.
You may forget that Watkins was in the same conversation as Julio Jones, AJ Green, and DeAndre Hopkins as being one of the best wide receiver prospects of the last five years during the 2014 draft. As an offensive weapon, Watkins is the complete package and then was drafted to the Buffalo Bills, a defense-reliant team with a string of defensive head coaches without the creativeness necessary to truly coach a weapon like him. Then he went to the Rams where he may not have had a great year in terms of yards but he did score eight touchdowns. Then he finally winds up in KC, where he is set to finally realize his full potential in an offense that is made even better with his presence. He did not disappoint in the opening game of the season.
The week before the game, the Jags came out and said that they expected Jalen Ramsey to shadow Tyreek Hill most if not all of the game. That would leave AJ Bouye predominantly covering Watkins and they were comfortable with that reality. Well, as it turns out, the Jags should have been a little more worried about how they handled him because on the Chiefs’ opening drive of the game, he was looking to hurt them. Not only did he succeed in doing that but he made a particular player look silly in the process.
This play sets up as just a regular, only 5-7 yard gain with Watkins sitting down in the shallow zone underneath the defense. But what comes next, not many could have predicted. As the defender closes on him, he feels it coming, which is just as impressive as anything, and he never looks toward the guy closing on him — but as soon as he catches the ball he is out of the way and on the move up the field. Huge shout out to Demarcus Robinson with the heads up play to get on a body with a great block. Then, with a juke that froze Ramsey as still as a statue and opened up a hole between the defenders, he forces him to respect his ability with the ball and to try to prevent Watkins from going around him. Then shoots through the gap between Ramsey and the Robinson block and is off to the races, coming in at over 21 miles per hour, all the way for a touchdown.
If there was any question about the speed of Watkins when compared to Hill and Hardman, then you just saw first hand that he’s got blazing speed too. Pulling away from all the Jags defenders after splitting the defense shows that element of a deep threat that we see from Hill so often, but Watkins also offers it. Hill may be the faster and shiftier player with the ball in his hands, but Watkins looks more like a running back with his power, moves and burst. It’s what makes him so dangerous after the catch and easily one of the best in the NFL in that department.
When it comes to this team and being the “number two” wide receiver, Watkins is disrespected amongst defenses, so I think we are seeing him play with a chip on his shoulder for the first time in his career. Teams focus on defending Hill, and for good reason, but seldom seem to take Watkins seriously as a threat. He isn’t going to be underestimated much longer in his second year in this offense with moves like this, though.
This isn’t a great play call from the get-go and it looks much more like a broken play with defenders getting to the “comeback screen” quickly but Watkins doesn’t panic. He knows he’s up against slower defensive lineman and/or linebackers so he makes the initial defender miss with a little step-back then sees the open field to his left and accelerates. The cut-back to the right forces more would-be tacklers to miss him and he is able to turn a loss of six or seven into a gain of five. That’s the kind of special player he is.
It’s not easy to do the things that he does here, but he makes it look effortless and so, so smooth. We saw Watkins last year against the Steelers look very similar to this on a jet sweep in the open field. His ability to make defenders miss in space without loss of speed or the burst to get back to speed quickly is positively uncanny. You would think after the display he put on during the Chiefs first drive that the Jags would pay extra close attention to him, especially with Hill no longer on the field right… Right?
This is all about two things, play design and deception. The Chiefs have Hardman and Robinson running deep posts from either side of the formation, and every other receiver running what appears to be flat/short routes. This fools the defense into doubling the deep threats, especially in Hardman who takes the deep safety’s attention with his speed coming down the middle of the field. Watkins is running a drag route, in the eyes of the defense but it’s has a “go” option at the end of it, with the defense dismissing him so quickly it allows him to take off upfield and get wide open. The defense did exactly what the Chiefs hoped for and it got them a touchdown.
But what you want from Watkins is to see the chip on his shoulder and the desire to beat the best when given the opportunity. This is something we haven’t seen much, because Hill usually takes the best corner of the opposing teams. We got to see him one on one with Ramsey on the goal line, a touchdown on the line and who wants it more? situation.
It’s not all that often if the Chiefs offense a receiver is tasked with being one on one in the end zone without a scheme to help get them open. Watkins is running, at least as I know it, a “zig” route; start out running diagonally to the post, but cutting back suddenly along the goal line to the flat. Ramsey is tasked with playing Watkins one on one and he actually does a great job of keeping with him, hand fighting and such. But when it comes down to it, he didn’t want it as much at Watkins. At the break of his route, he throws off Ramsey and creates just enough separation for Mahomes to throw a strike near the pylon to Watkins for the touchdown.
He wants to have the best year of his career and we can finally see the chip on his shoulder that he needs to make that happen. With Hill missing at least the next few weeks of the season, Watkins becomes the number one receiver and will have opportunities to continue to showcase the skills that defenses continually underestimate. After this breakout performance, I’m sure the narrative surrounding Watkins will change, at least to some extent.
He looks faster, crisper, stronger, and more determined than ever before. Whether that has to do with the assumption that he is in a contract year or not, I would bet he just wants to be the best version of himself; after seeing him in just the second year of this offense and him being ONLY 26 years old, it makes too much sense for the Chiefs to not try and bring him back for years to come. He makes this offense even more dangerous when you have Hill and Kelce with Watkins as the mix-in.
I will close with this, Sammy Watkins just went for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns, matching his season touchdown total from a year ago, in week one, against one of the better defenses in the NFL. How well do you think he’s going to do in the coming weeks? Oh and here’s a reminder in coming full circle: The Jags were comfortable with Bouye covering Watkins. This is why it didn’t matter.