Sammy Watkins: The Path to WR1 Fantasy Season
Editor’s Note – Check out The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Series Guide to see how our writers compile their projections and the methodology behind this series.
For this installment of the Path to a WR1 series, we will take a look at the first WR drafted in the legendary 2014 NFL Draft class: Sammy Watkins. Selected 4th overall by the Buffalo Bills, Sammy Watkins is now playing for his 3rd NFL team in the last calendar year. His first stop in the NFL, the Bills, was a story of potential and unfortunate injuries. In 2017, he finally looked healthy but found himself traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
In this article, we will take a look at Watkins’ ceiling in Kansas City and estimate what it will take for him to reach it. Currently, he’s the consensus WR25 in PPR leagues according to the Ballers rankings.
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On August 11th, 2017, Sammy Watkins was traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Los Angeles Rams, a mere 30 days before the start of the NFL season. This means that Sammy was thrust into a new system that was going through growing pains of its own with rookie Head Coach, Sean McVay, and a first-year starter at QB, Jared Goff. Watkins started quickly with 13 receptions for 194 yards and 2 TDs in his first 3 games. However, his season-long stats were underwhelming with 39 receptions, 593 receiving yards, and 8 TDs. The latter number is impressive given his limited prep time in joining a new team and only drawing 14 starts, but it still left owners wanting more. No doubt the Kansas City Chiefs, having signed Watkins to a large contract for 2018 and beyond, are expecting more as well.
The Path for 2018
After signing the aforementioned contract for 3 years and 48 million dollars, Watkins is the 4th highest paid WR in the league behind only Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins. This immediately makes him the WR1 for the Chiefs, with all due respect to Tyreek Hill and what he has been able to accomplish in Kansas City. In this writer’s estimation, Hill has served as this team’s WR1 out of necessity created by the Chief’s salary cap situation. The moment they were able to clear cap space by offloading Alex Smith, they immediately dropped a duffle bag full of cash on Sammy’s doorstep. With the expectation that he will be the Chief’s WR1, what does that mean for his hopes at becoming a WR1 in fantasy?
Target Share– The 2017 Rams managed to be the highest scoring team in the league and did so using a balanced attack on offense. Both with a 45:55 run to pass ratio and spreading the targets around their top 4 pass catchers. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins all received 70 or more targets with Watkins bringing up the rear with 70 targets, good for 13.7% of the team target share.
As for Sammy’s target share in the future, we can look to the past for context. Since coming to Kansas City, Andy Reid’s top WRs, not named Tyreek Hill, have averaged a 21.8% target share. This is in line with the share Sammy commanded in his last 16 game season for Buffalo when he commanded 22.4% of the targets. I project something between the 19% Hill got last season and 22% for Watkins.
Catch Rate– Sammy Watkins’ catch rate of 55.7% may not seem impressive in a vacuum, but it is an admirable effort for a WR with no OTA’s to gain chemistry with his QB. Additionally, it is no secret that the further downfield a pass travels, the less likely it will have of being completed. This is another check in favor of Sammy as he was used largely as a downfield threat and red zone target. In fact, his catch percentage improved to 70% inside the red zone.
Receptions– Sammy Watkins isn’t going to fool anyone into projecting him as a PPR monster. His 2017 total of 39 receptions isn’t doing him any favors in that department. His career high in receptions for a season was 65, going back to his rookie campaign and his only season in which he played a full 16-game season. It’s a fair projection to put him in that 60-75 reception range with a full offseason with the team.
aDOT & Air Yards– If you are not familiar with these metrics, “aDOT” is the average depth of target for a receiver and “Air Yards” is the distance the ball travels in the air when the receiver is being targeted on all passes whether complete or incomplete for the season (these stats come to us from airyards.com). In 2017, Sammy Watkins posted a respectable 14.4 aDOT and 1,009 Air Yards. This is a clear indication of the role Watkins plays in NFL offenses. He is an outside WR used to challenge defenses on deep routes. Which should come as no surprise given his 4.4 40 wheels and 6-foot 1-inch frame.
TDs– When you take into account Watkins’ big play ability along with his red zone efficiency it is easy to project a high TD output in 2018. Over his career, Watkins has averaged just short of 0.5 TDs per game played. This puts him on a respectable 8 TD pace with potential for double digits. Watkins red zone presence on the Chiefs is only bolstered by Travis Kelce serving as the teams TE. Despite being a top producer at the position, Kelce has struggled to be a huge TD threat. Prior to last season, Kelce had never had more than 5 TDs in a season. Watkins should immediately become the primary read in the red zone.
WR1 Possibility: Plausible (18.5%)
The biggest factor in Sammy Watkins’ path to a WR1 season in 2018 will be the offense around him. The 2017 Kansas City Chiefs became just the 5th team in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard WR, TE and have an RB rush for 1,000 yards. A feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the 2007 Browns. This means that Watkins is going to see some serious competition for touches from Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt. An additional variable in this offense is the change at QB, with the debut of Patrick Mahomes as a starter. While Alex Smith had a career year in 2017, the QB change is good news for Watkins. It means that all weapons in the passing attack are starting at square one as they build chemistry with the young gunslinger. Per reports out of camp, (chiefs.com) Sammy is making the most out of this opportunity and is already building a strong rapport with Mahomes.
So the question is, “will Watkins get enough opportunity to become a top 12 WR for fantasy?” The good news here is that Watkins has never been a huge volume guy. Also, they don’t make WR1’s the way they used to in fantasy football. Over the last two seasons, the #12 WR has averaged just 90.5 receptions for 1,003 yards and 6.5 TDs. A healthy Watkins could easily match this production, though likely more reliant on yards and TDs than receptions.
Sammy Watkins has the contract, draft pedigree, and physical tools to show that he can and should be the WR1 in the Chiefs offense. The real value here is that he is in the conversation as a top 12 WR with an ADP of a back-end WR3, being taken in the 7th round of 12 team PPR drafts as the 32nd WR off the board. If you share my draft strategy of swinging for the fences after you’ve selected your studs in the first few rounds, Watkins is a no-brainer with a Path to be a WR1.