Bills WRs Watkins, Woods enjoy complementary start

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) scores a touchdown as he is tackled by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Robert Woods was a big fan of fellow Bills starting receiver Sammy Watkins long before the two began sharing neighboring lockers.

Watkins can say the same thing about Woods, even though the two attended colleges on opposite coasts.

Woods, who played at Southern California, and Watkins, at Clemson, revealed this week that they spent much of the 2012 season tracking each other's production to serve as motivation.

''We used to compete with them,'' Woods said, referring to the Clemson tandem of Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. ''It was my last year, and one day they had four touchdowns between them. And we were like, `All right, we've got to get four, too.'''

It was no different for Watkins and Hopkins, who kept tabs on USC's top tandem of Woods and Marqise Lee.

''Yeah, it's funny, man. That's what pushed us every week,'' Watkins said. ''You always want to be doing what they're doing and top them just to keep yourself hungry.''

That rivalry has taken on a complementary - and complimentary - dimension. The two have already begun showing flashes of their dynamic chemistry in helping the Bills to a 2-0 start in preparing to host San Diego (1-1) on Sunday.

Woods had four catches - three for first downs - for a team-best 78 yards in a season-opening 23-20 overtime win at Chicago. Watkins responded with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in a 29-10 win over Miami last weekend. The eight catches were the most by a Bills rookie since Joe Cribbs had nine in 1980.

And Watkins' 117 yards receiving were the most by any Bills player since Stevie Johnson had 137 in 2010 - that's right, four years ago.

It's your turn, Robert.

''It's still early,'' Woods said, breaking into a big grin. ''Now I've got something to go after.''

The Bills' big investment in revamping their group of receivers is showing signs of paying off for a team that's been saddled with a popgun passing attack for much of the past decade. The Bills haven't cracked the NFL's top 14 in yards passing since finishing fifth in 2002, when Eric Moulds and Peerless Price were Drew Bledsoe's top threats.

Woods was the first to arrive in 2013, when the Bills selected him in the second round. Watkins arrived with a splash in May.

General manager Doug Whaley thought so highly of Watkins' ability that he traded next year's first-round draft pick to move up five spots and select the receiver with the No. 4 pick.

''I'm extremely impressed,'' running back Fred Jackson said of the two.

Jackson referred to Woods as one of his ''favorite people I've loved to watch,'' because of how physical he is in outmuscling defenders as a receiver and blocker.

As for Watkins, Jackson said: ''Sammy's still scratching the surface, but he's got the potential to be one of the better ones that have played here in Buffalo.''

Watkins is a speedster who has shown an ability to find holes in opposing defenses. He's also been resilient in playing despite sore ribs he first injured during the preseason.

Woods has speed and is also a crisp route runner who has been fearless in making catches in traffic.

Their presence has made it difficult for defense's to determine which one to shadow with double coverage.

The Bills have further depth with fifth-year receiver Mike Williams, acquired in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay, and second-year speedster Marquise Goodwin.

It's a group that has Watkins already beginning to track some of the NFL's top receiving corps to use as motivation.

''We've got a lot of room to grow, but I think we can be dominant like Julio (Jones) and Roddy White,'' Watkins said, referring to the Atlanta Falcons' top tandem. ''With them, they could win any game at any time. And that's the situation we've got to get here.''

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.