Fans have been pretty outspoken about Sammy Watkins on social media and they have a pretty good reason for it. His contract is not ideal for the role he is being asked to play, and you look at his stats and they don’t add up to much outside of one game. On the surface, there is a lot to be worried about production-wise with Watkins.
In the past four games Watkins averaged nine targets but 63 yards was the most he could muster in any of them. In those games, Watkins had 19 total catches for 173 yards and zero touchdowns. But why is Watkins seemingly under-performing? Is he not getting the ball enough? Is he not getting open? Is he still hurt? All these questions I will answer, and more.
Let’s do a little comparison to start this off: last year Watkins played nine regular-season games and had 40 receptions on 55 targets for 519 yards and three touchdowns. This season he’s played in one less game and to this point has 42 receptions on 68 targets for 538 yards and three touchdowns.
The first thing that is going to come to your mind is that a good chunk of that came against the Jags. While that is true, it remains true that he racked up those numbers in the game and you don’t get to just act like it didn’t happen. He was elusive, fast, slippery, and determined on a number of plays during that game. Something that we need to see more of from him is being as determined as he was in week one.
The open field he saw against the Jags haven’t been as common since that game, however. Defenses don’t want to get beat deep by him so he sees more space underneath. He’s had more targets this year as well and while only four of them were drops by my count, they were at big moments and he needs to not drop passes like this one:
This was a huge drop and I think he would have scored on this play if he had caught it. You can see that the deep safety was the only defender that had a chance to stop him, and in the open field I’ll give the edge to Watkins. He is third of all wide receivers when it comes to forcing missed tackles, with ten on the year, and it seems like every week he is making someone else miss to get extra yards.
That leaves roughly twenty targets that didn’t get to Watkins. Some were broken up by defenders, but the majority of the rest of them were missed throws by the quarterback or slightly wrong routes by Watkins. I don’t think Mahomes and Watkins have that great chemistry yet, early in the season he missed an open Watkins quite a few times, outside of the Jags game and that has impacted the stat line of Watkins. In the Raiders game alone there were four throws that missed Watkins.
Here are two plays that put fault on both Mahomes and Watkins In the first one Watkins comes open over the middle of the field and he throws it above and behind Sammy in his route. The second one is a little tougher of a throw but Watkins got a step on his guy and Mahomes tries to throw this to an area on the field he expects Watkins to be. You can see Watkins attempt to alter his route to find the ball, but it’s too late. That second throw is where you see a little bit of the chemistry issue they have. They need to work a bit on it but I think they will get it figured out after the bye week, which will also give him time to rest up and possibly rehab his hamstring?
I am not a doctor in the slightest but watching Watkins run now as compared to week one is a little different. He still has that shiftiness that helps in the yards after catch game, but his straight-line speed looks a tad lacking. I would bet he’s still feeling some of the impact of his hamstring injury but he is playing through it even if he’s feeling pain, and that’s what fans wanted of him.
The injury issue is a big part of this whole conversation and it certainly is a reason that Watkins should not be paid the way he is, but when it comes to playing that shouldn’t be held against him because he has no control over that. I agree with the money thing, but there is no question that he makes this offense better and defenses can’t just forget about him, because he will make them pay.
All that being said, I’m gonna get to the nitty-gritty of what I wanted to find out with this whole review. I charted every snap where Watkins ran a route and had a chance to make a catch, ruling out obvious screen plays and things of that nature. Of the 286 routes ran by Watkins this season he was open on 155 of them. That means he’s open 54% of the time on plays like this.
That’s what he does, he gets open but as the third-best option on any given play, he probably doesn’t get the attention he deserves. It’s not going to just happen on this team. Hill is, arguably, the best receiver in the NFL and Kelce is the best TE in the NFL, and they have been on the team longer than Watkins. Then I see plays like this and wonder what’s going on.
This is a bit odd considering the number of arm angles that I’ve seen Mahomes use to get the ball to where it needs to go. Watkins does get hit coming across the middle, but he gets right back on the horse and gets open; wide open, I might add. He has room to run and with his speed, he can beat the closing defender to the edge and get a big gain. Mahomes pulls this ball down even though he’s running to his right. This should be a big gain for Watkins. Granted, he still finds Robinson for a first down, but the ball should have gone to Watkins there.
You all know how I feel about Watkins, but he is one of the best receivers in the NFL after the catch, and getting him in space is the key to finding success with him for big gains.
This shows the elusiveness that he possesses, and it is really something watching him work in space. Look closely; he makes the first defender miss even though he has the sideline as his friend in this situation. Watkins makes him think he’s going to run around him with the little space he has to work with. Then, with another defender closing, he just squeaks by him and gets into the open field. With the ball in his hands he does what this offense is really built on, and that’s being explosive. He has all of the traits and fits this offense very well.
He did have bad games against the Raiders and Titans, more so against the Titans because Mahomes forced some throws to him against the Raiders as well as missing some throws. Every player has bad games, it’s just more amplified with Watkins with fans because of his contract. The team is the one paying Watkins, not the fans, but you’d think the opposite was true from the way they talk. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Veach went out and got the best receiver on the market to ensure Mahomes found success in his first season. He probably overpaid, but did what he thought was best.
Watkins made some great plays this season and is going to have a better year than he did last year. Barring any further injury issues he will have missed three games. That’s about what I pegged going into the season given his history. Looking at the targets he should have more stats but that’s why we don’t look entirely at stats, they can mislead, and in this case they do. Here’s a reminder of some of the great plays he’s made this year.
At the end of the day, he’s doing what he is being asked to do and that’s getting open. I think the Chiefs will visit this during the bye week and make a more concerted effort to get Watkins more involved in the offense. Yes, targets are nice but the right targets are what they need to focus on so as to use his abilities in the best way possible. I think I’ve seen far too many “go” routes and “out and up” routes from him, which the defense identifies quickly. Allowing him to create separation with his short-area quickness is where he is best. He’s also done very well identifying soft spots in zone coverage.
He needs to work on concentration drops and getting free of man coverage more consistently, but that will come with him being fully healthy. This bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for him and I think he could look like he did against the Jags going forward. Watkins has been better than the eyes suggest and it’s harder to see that just watching the games live. He is going to be a key for this offense going forward and into the playoffs if the Chiefs want to be successful.
I understand the frustration with Watkins not having more 100-yard games, but outside of Hill there isn’t a receiver on the roster that has more than one 100-yard game and that speaks to Mahomes spreading the ball around more in Hill’s absence. There are so many weapons on this team that it makes it difficult for receivers that aren’t named Hill to be featured every week.
Watkins hasn’t had the season many fans wanted him to have, but after watching him in every game he’s played he’s done a great job, giving himself a chance to have big games, it’s just that the timing hasn’t always been there on both sides. There will always be people doubting Watkins in terms of impact on the field, but he’s in position to have a great impact on this offense. If he cleans up some of the mental errors to his game, he’s going to help this team get to where they want to go. Being healthy is a huge part of that and coming out of the bye we will see just how he looks against a bad Raiders team. You don’t have to like his contract, I sure don’t, but don’t take it out on him. He’s having a good year and will continue to contribute to this team. He’s due for a big game as well, something I expect to see in the upcoming games.