The Best of the Best: Sammy Watkins

We’re now nine days away from the beginning of the 2013 college football season, which means it’s time for part two of my Best of the Best series.  This 10 article series will take a  look at my top 10 draft eligible players in college football.  For my rankings, I factored my Draft stock for each player, as well as their impact on the college gridiron.  While I fully expect all of these players to be top 15 draft selections next year, there could always be fluctuation with a premium placed on positions like Quarterback and Offensive Tackle.  With that said, it’s time to look at my number nine prospect, Clemson Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins.

Image

Tale of the Tape

  • 6’1″
  • 205 lbs

Career Numbers

  • 139 receptions
  • 3361 all-purpose yards
  • 17 touchdowns

In 2011 Sammy Watkins made his Freshman debut against Troy, and had a more than solid day hauling in seven passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.  The Florida athlete used that performance to springboard him into a stellar first season resulting in 82 catches, and all-purpose yardage in excess of 2,200 yards.  In 2012 Watkins battled injuries and a stellar year for former teammate and new Houston Texan DeAndre Hopkins, and his yardage took a big step back with only around 1,100 all-purpose yards.  Now as 2013 begins Watkins is healthy again and looks ready to prove why he’s one of the elite talents in college football.

First the good.

Explosive

  • Watkins is an extremely explosive athlete.  As a track star, Watkins shows the top end speed to run away from defenders, and has the shiftiness and quickness you love to see from players at the position.                    Image
  • This play is one of Watkins most explosive plays from his Freshman year.  It’s third down at the beginning of the third quarter against Auburn.  The Corner across from Watkins is lined up 10 yards off of Sammy to prevent the big play.  Image
  • Watkins runs a quick curl route right to the sticks and sits in the open area to pick up the easy first down.                                  Image
  • As he makes the catch, Watkins instantly looks to go North and South and pick up as many yards as possible.                                            Image
  • Watkins is able to use the extra gear he possesses to accelerate right past the diving tackler and now has become a thread to take a simple six yard route the distance.                                                                               Image
  • Still accelerating after the catch, Watkins runs by another diving Defensive Back.Image
  • Watkins uses his exceptional explosiveness after the catch to break to the edge.  At this point there’s no shot for the defense to make the play, Watkins walks into the end zone.                                                            Image
  • Here, Watkins will take the ball out of the backfield against Furman.   Image
  • Watkins teammates have done a good job providing him with a clean lane to run through by sealing their blocks against the lesser competition.  Image
  • In an instant Watkins has already accelerated through the hole and past any tackler that had a chance to bring him down before the play became a huge gain.  There’s one last attempt to push him out inside the five, but the result of the play is a TD.  Since pictures don’t do this play justice, here is the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6S_TlcXCLU .

Route Running

  • Another area where Watkins really shines is his route running.  He runs extremely quick and crisp routes, He is assertive in his foot technique, stabbing the ground and making angular direction changes rather than rounding off his routes.  Also, he shows the ability to run most routes in the route tree, and run them well.                                                                                            Image
  • On this play Watkins is able to beat his man easily with an effective stop and go route.  Watkins heads up field for about six to seven yards then puts the breaks on and fakes curling back to the Quarterback.            Image
  • The Defensive Back bites on the curl fake, slowing down in his back pedal and preparing to break on the curl.                                                Image
  • As Watkins cuts back to the outside of the field, the DB is left helpless and must now fight to recover.                                                         Image
  • Watkins now has a step on his man, and has the speed to pull away.  The QB was ultimately sacked on the play, but a half of a second more time in the pocket and this play would have resulted in a touchdown for Watkins and Clemson.                                                                          Image
  • Here we’ll see Watkins utilize a quick in route to beat the man coverage.  Watkins heads a few yards up field then abruptly stabs the ground, allowing him to make a sudden direction change.                                    Image
  • With the sharp stab, Watkins is able to make a 90 degree direction change in an instant, leaving the defender with a tough hip transition to recover.     Image
  • The quick cut creates the cushion Watkins needs to make the catch.      Image
  • Finally, we’ll look at a post route that was an easy touchdown for Watkins.  Watkins who is lined up off the line of scrimmage goes down field about 10 yards and again stabs the ground hard.                              Image
  • The stab allows Watkins to cut easily and cut towards the middle of the field, while still moving further down field at the same time.           Image
  • Watkins is able to get behind the safety, and to the spot that the Quarterback has thrown the ball.                                                       Image
  • The Safety is late to react, and Watkins is left all alone in the middle of the field.  The Quarterback and Watkins have good timing with one another and Watkins is able to make a nice leaping catch and walk into the end zone.

Yards After the Catch/Contact

  • One of the biggest things I look for when watching a Wide Receiver is what they can do after the catch/first contact, or their YAC ability.  Watkins combines quickness, explosiveness and elusiveness into a package that is a YAC lovers dream.  He immediately looks down field once securing the catch looking for cutback lanes, and the most likely path to pay dirt.  He shows the ability to shake tackles, and once he sees green he’s almost always gone.     Image
  • Here we see a great example of what Watkins is capable after the catch, or first contact.  On this play Watkins takes the hand off in the backfield, and will be contacted very early.                                                                          Image
  • Watkins is contacted almost immediately, and deep in the backfield.  However the elusive runner is able to shift through the tackle and keep moving.  Image
  • Again Watkins faces contact in the backfield and he is once again able to slip by.                                                                                                      Image
  • Becoming a trend on this play by now, Watkins slips yet another tackle attempt in the backfield.                                                                    Image
  • Watkins runs through one more tackle attempt then is finally brought down by the fifth man.  However the damage is done for Auburn.  A play that should have been stopped in the backfield for a significant loss on third down has now resulted in the chains moving due to Watkins individual effort.

Versatility

  • It’s truly a disservice to call Watkins just a Wide Receiver because he’s much more.  He’s a special athlete that can be a weapon in just about any offense.  His great top end speed, and quick lateral agility make him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.  He’s a player that you can get the ball in many ways.  Whether it be from one of the outside Receiver positions, in the slot, in the return game and even handing the ball off to him in the backfield.  If you can draw the play up you can probably include Watkins in it.

Needs Work

While every single player in my Best of the Best series has traits to their game that in my opinion make them stand out, they all have things they need to improve too.  So let’s look at a couple of areas where I would like to see Watkins improve in 2013.

Competing For 50-50 Balls

  • Watkins is an elite talent and wins a lot of match ups just because his physical skill set is that much better than his opponents.  When he is faced with a worthy match up though he sometimes has trouble competing for contested passes. Image
  • Early in the game against Auburn his Freshman year, Watkins is able to run by his defender and get a step on him.  This would be an easy touchdown, however the Quarterback doesn’t push the ball deep enough.  At this point Watkins is doing a great job tracking the ball through the air.                   Image
  • Watkins makes the adjustment to the under thrown pass, and at this point is still in good position to make the play over a Defensive Back who hasn’t located the football.                                                                        Image
  • Here’s where things go wrong.  Even with the defender on the inside, Watkins still has the upper hand because he has located the football in the air while the defender still hasn’t turned his head.  If Watkins gets vertical and attacks the football at its highest point, he will likely win the match up being able to secure the catch before the defender can make a play.  However, Watkins doesn’t get very vertical at all, and because of this puts himself at a disadvantage because now he has to catch the ball through the defender.               Image
  • Watkins makes the catch initially, but is not able to secure the ball like he would if he attacked the football in the air.            Image
  • Without being able to secure the catch in the air, the defender is able to rip the ball free as Watkins is going down to the turf.

Playing More Physical

  • If Sammy Watkins wants to reach his ceiling he will need to learn to be more physical as a Wide Receiver.  What I mean by this is he will need to work at fighting through the jam, and also learn how to use his frame to shield his defenders.  A receivers body can be a great tool for the player, being used to create separation, and keep defenders from being able to make a play on the ball.  To this point that’s not something I’ve seen used often by Watkins, and it would only make him even more of a threat if he developed this skill.

Final Thoughts

Watkins is an extremely gifted athlete playing Wide Receiver.  He has incredible explosiveness and quickness, with great top end speed.  He’s a shifty elusive player who is able to evade tacklers and pick up YAC in bunches.  He runs precision routes, and has a feel for where the first down sticks are on the field.  At times he shows great body control to make catches on the sideline, and is a very willing and underrated blocker.  He has good hands, but at times lets the ball get into his pads when you would like to see him rip it out of the air.

Watkins needs to work on attacking the 50-50 passes better, and also using his body more to win battles.  He dealt with injuries all last season, so he will need to show that he is injury free and can stay that way going forward.  He has minor character concerns that teams in the NFL will want to look into, but nothing that will impact his draft status or cause a team to remove him from their board in my opinion.  He lacks ideal size for an outside receiver, but with his other physical tools has the ability to be a very good number one Wide Receiver at the next level.

Thank you for reading, and be sure to check back tomorrow for the next player in my Best of the Best series.  Also, please feel free to send me any comments/critique to danguy013@gmail.com or feel free to to comment/follow me on twitter @danny_g13

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