The Case For Sammy Watkins
I won’t lie to you and butter you up to begin this Fantasy Face-off with flowery language exclaiming to you that I’ve always been a Sammy Watkins truther. In fact, Watkins was on my DO-NOT-DRAFT list last year. (Yes that list was in ALL CAPS and yes it seemed like I was yelling at you. Apologies.) But I do want to share with you the fact that I’ve seen the light. Amen and amen. I’ve seen the light when it comes to Watkins’ talent, his massive target share in the Buffalo offense, his unique playmaking ability, and his high upside draft cost. So throw aside those preconceived notions, those petty injury concerns, your Buffalo Bills hatred, and let loose for a second as we dive into someone who could most certainly be a league-winner in 2016.
I’ll begin with what undeniably everyone in the fantasy community should be in agreement with: this dude is super talented. In fact, Watkins was selected 4th overall before every other WR in the famed 2014 draft and was unanimously considered the best talent even among Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, etc. Some claimed that “Watkins was the best offensive weapon in the 2014 NFL Draft” and well as “the best receiver prospect to enter the NFL since A.J. Green and Julio Jones“. If you’ve watched any of Watkins’ film, you can be impressed with some of the same hallelujahs given to him coming out of Clemson:
- He forces teams to keep a safety deep with rare first step quickness.
- Tracks the deep ball extremely well
- He’s an explosive playmaker with game-breaking speed
- Not the biggest WR but his unbelievable body control makes him a top-rate leaper
- Quick release off of the line that makes many CBs think twice before pressing him.
- A TD machine and trustable option in the red-zone
Before we go beyond box scores, Watkins’ 2015 numbers, and his opportunity, I think we need to first wrestle with the simple dilemma of drafting talent vs. drafting opportunity. Some will claim that talent always wins out while others may lay claim to the fact that regardless of how talented a player is, if there’s ample opportunity than they can be a fantasy asset (hello there Devonta Freeman). And yet we don’t have to pick and choose here but rather let Watkins’ immense talent stay before us as we plunge into his immense opportunity. You get to draft a talented guy with an unreal opportunity in 2016. As Miley Cyrus put it, “You get the best of both worlds,” and if you want to stop reading this after I pulled out a Miley Cyrus quote to justify drafting Sammy Watkins, so be it. I just wanted to be the first person in the world to type both of those people in the same sentence.
There will be some haters (haters gonna hate people) who claim that the Bills ranked 31st in the league in pass attempts in 2015 with only 465. They’ll say “all Rex Ryan does is run the ball and so… yea… Watkins stinks!” Although the Bills might rank in the bottom of the league in pass attempts, we have to remember there were 465 times last year the Bills threw it, roughly 50% of the time. They’re not running the Wishbone or the Triple Option. The number of pass attempts is also a bit skewed considering Tyrod Taylor had 104 rushing attempts from the QB position. So in terms of total “dropbacks” the Bills’ total was closer to around 545 as we can assume the majority of these were not designed QB runs thus pushing the total targets available up.
Well you can return that argument of “run heavy weak sauce” with a simple rebuttal by giving detractors a look at Watkins’ target market share. The target market share is simply taking the total number of team pass attempts, subtracting the throwaways and then dividing by the total number of targets Watkins saw in 2015. We’re only taking into account the games Watkins actually played in so 101 targets in only 12 games played is a first rate share. At 26.7% of the team’s targets in those 12 games, Watkins would’ve ranked 12th in the NFL, slightly behind A.J. Green. This rate should remain steady in 2016 as there are no new developments in the Buffalo passing game from last year. In fact, I’d argue, given health, that Watkins could grow in that number to closer to 28 or 29%. In fact, OC Greg Roman has averaged 28% for his WR1 the last 5 years given a full season of health.
Who else is going to take a step forward and eat into Watkins’ target share? Robert Woods? Leonard Hankerson? Marcus Easley? Charles Clay? As you can tell, those names are not intimidating in the least bit. You can be rest assured that Watkins is the #1 in this offense with no one even resembling a fantasy #2 in this offense.
When owners needed him most down the stretch, Watkins came through with some monster performances and turned into a target hog. Tyrod Taylor looked his way early and often as his target share the last 5 weeks of the season was off the charts.
Courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com, you can see that Watkins’ target share steadily rose towards the end of the season. The Bills played spoiler as they knocked the Jets out of the playoffs in Week 17 with Watkins roasting All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis for 11 catches on 15 targets for 136 yards. Even against the top competition, Watkins was the main target option.
Dynamic Playmaker & League Winner
He ranked #1 in the league in 2015 in yards per target at 10.9, a statistic that measures the efficiency of a pass catcher. In other words, for every opportunity that Watkins had in 2015, he gained more yards on those targets than any other WR in the NFL. He was the most efficient WR in the game. This translated to fantasy production as his 2.28 fantasy points per target, which ranked 2nd behind only the immortal Doug Baldwin last year. On a per game basis, Watkins ranked 8th in standard leagues with 12.2 fantasy points per contest ahead of more heralded pass catchers A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, Alshon Jeffery, Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and even Doug Baldwin himself.
Over his final nine games, Watkins averaged 5.4 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. As the season progressed and owners entered into the playoffs, Watkins stepped on the gas and entered into another stratosphere. From Weeks 12-17, Watkins was the WR3 in standard and WR4 in PPR leagues. His Week 12 showing was unbelievable with 6 catches, 158 yards and 2-TD at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, one of the toughest road matchups in the league.
In short, this is someone with potential to win your week for you. The targets are there as a baseline with the added fact that Watkins has scored a TD in 60% of his games played. There’s clear upside for Watkins to pop off a game with 150 yards and 2 TDs. There are few players blending this type of elite talent and production available this late in drafts. This leads to my final point…
If the aforementioned arguments did not sway your opinion of Watkins, perhaps the draft day cost you will fork out for the all-world talent might take you over the edge. His current ADP sits at just WR18 or the end of the third round (3.10) in 12-team redraft leagues. You have the added value of a late third round pick with the upside of a player who could easily be a WR1 at a mid-WR2 cost. You most likely are not drafting Watkins to be your WR1 on your team, especially in PPR leagues. Why not spend a 3rd round pick on a guy who has dominated when on the field and slot him in as your WR2 or even a FLEX for those who pass on RBs?
Haters might claim that Watkins is a walking injury waiting to happen and that you don’t want to “waste a pick on a guy like that”, but whatever risk you might forecast is currently baked into Watkins’ draft day cost. A pick in the 3rd round certainly allows you to take two studs in the first two rounds with an opportunity to draft a player like Watkins with major upside in the late 3rd round. Listen, no player is immune and even the elite pantheon of WRs (Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.) all have dealt with major injury concerns. Draft Watkins not just as a value but also as a dominant league-winning pick.
In closing, hopefully you’ve been able to examine the evidence presented, the fallacies running amuck, and look at Sammy Watkins in a new light. His talent screams breakout while his target share is oozing with potential. His playmaking ability is begging for us to consider him while his title-winning pedigree should make haters shake in their boots. And that draft cost…. Whew! I’m taking Watkins with confidence in the end of Round 3 and hope you’ll jump on board too… to a fantasy title. A sweet Sammy Watkins-led fantasy title.