Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills traded up from their spot at ninth overall in a deal with the Cleveland Browns for the right to take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No 4 overall. It's a clear indication that the Bills believe in quarterback EJ Manuel, and may add traction to recent rumors that the team is looking to trade Stevie Johnson. The Bills give up their first- and fourth-round picks next year, as well as swapping first-rounders this year, so the Watkins pick had best work out. Fortunately, Watkins appears to have the kind of talent that will make a major impact on any team.
Strengths: One of the things that makes Watkins so captivating as a player is that he is a legit weapon to make a big play from anywhere — from the backfield to the slot to any position in trips or bunch formations. Tremendous after-catch player on bubble screens, and he’s very dangerous on end-arounds. As a backfield weapon, he looks and thinks like a running back with his foot-fakes and acceleration. Has the pure speed and second gear to outrun college cornerbacks to the end zone, but will also gain separation with an estimable array of jukes off the line and in space. Tremendously effective in motion plays, especially out of the backfield — this is how he often creates separation — and his understanding of formation spacing and timing serves him well. He’s very tough to cover when he’s hitting the line with a full head of steam, and his NFL team would do well to use him in these types of “waggle” plays. Blocks with above-average effort and form, though not a lot of power.
Weaknesses: Watkins’ height creates concerns with regards to jump balls and contested catches; he’s simply not big enough to grab some of the balls that more physically imposing receivers might. And while he’s strong, he needs space to operate — he’ll get taken down on first contact a lot if the first contact is a form tackle attempt, though he’ll drive his helmet in and try to gain extra yardage. Watkins said at the combine that he’s comfortable with all manner of route concepts, but he was a quick up-and-out and vertical target at Clemson, and there are times when he appears a step slow on some more angular routes — especially curls and comebacks or anything with really quick cuts. Has the physical talent to master the techniques required and shows it at times, but that could be a process.
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To his credit, Watkins addressed specific route issues from the podium at the scouting combine.
“I’ve become a pretty good route runner, but there are areas I can still improve in with getting out of my routes,” he said. “What I’m really focused on is my curl routes and my comebacks. I’ve got to get my transitions, and know when to run full speed or not, and sync my hips and get out of my routes.”
I actually had Texas A&M's Mike Evans ahead of Watkins on my board, so this is a LOT to give up for one player. Watkins appears to be a safe pick, but the amount given up makes this a very risky deal -- and puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved.
When the Vikings took Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson with one of their three first-round picks in 2013, it took a while for the now-departed coaching staff to mix him in as anything but a dynamic returner. When he was finally given the opportunity to use his full array of attributes, Patterson put up performances Minnesota hadn’t seen from a rookie receiver since Randy Moss scalded the league with his talent in 1998. Watkins could have a similar impact at the next level, but it will take an open-minded staff and creative playbook to get the most from him at the start. Hopefully, Buffalo has that on lock.
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