The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Sammy Watkins
Editor’s Note: As outlined in the Path to WR1 Primer article, The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series will showcase WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top-15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. We are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total but merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.
This ‘Path to WR1’ series has an interesting past. If you do a search for ‘Path to WR1’ on the Fantasy Footballers website you’re going to notice a few things like some misses. We’re looking at players that are being drafted well outside the top-12 WRs so misses are going to happen. You’re also going to notice some huge hits like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill. You also might see that this is the third year in a row where Watkins has had one of these articles written for him.
When I offered to write this article, I didn’t know this would be the third straight year Watkins has been featured in this series. To be honest, I can’t remember drafting Watkins once in the years past and I easily do 10+ drafts every year. Maybe this helps me be a buyer this year-I’ve never been burned by him. The thing is, I know there a lot of people that have been disappointed by him which is driving his price down around the end of the fifth round despite the golden opportunity that’s shaping up for the 2019 season.
Let’s start with what happened in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
2017 Season Recap
To be fair, the 2017 Path to WR1 article assumed Watkins would stay in Buffalo. The Los Angeles Rams, who had just hired Sean McVay, signed Watkins after Buffalo declined his fifth-year option. What seemed like an ideal landing spot ended up being a nightmare for fantasy drafters.
His start to the season was absolutely miserable. He was targeted five or fewer times in nine of the first ten games of the season. The lone bright spot was a Week 3 explosion with a 6/106/2 line. As great as that week was, it set his owners up for failure. He had five receptions for 70 yards combined over the next four weeks. He finally exceeded 50 yards again in Week 8 where he managed to convert two targets into a single reception for 67 yards and a TD. Watkins managed to finish the year with eight TDs, but the lack of volume killed his fantasy owners in weeks where he failed to score. He finished the year with a 39/593/8 line on 70 targets. Despite the frustrating year, he finished top-10 in QB rating when targeted and fantasy points per target at 2.09 per playerprofiler.com.
2018 Season Recap
The script in 2018 was almost identical. Watkins signed with KC, another team with an offensive-minded coach featuring a second-year QB. His end-of-year stat line was almost identical to 2018 with the exception of TDs-40/519/3. He was top-10 in QB rating when targeted once again and finished with the exact same 2.09 fantasy points per target(18th overall). The problem with Watkins was injuries.
Watkins left early in Week 3 with a concussion, but came back in Week 4. He injured his foot in Week 9, tried to come back in Week 11, but ultimately left again and missed the final five weeks of the season. His season looks like a disappointment especially given the sizable three-yr, $48 million contract KC extended, but was it? He was still getting targeted heavily when healthy:[lptw_table id=”159794″ style=”default”]
A 20% market share is quite impressive especially with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce soaking up targets and TDs. Watkins actually averaged 6.8 targets, 4.9 receptions, 64.4 yards, and .4 TDs per game. Those aren’t ‘set the world on fire’ numbers but they were good enough to average 11.8 fantasy points/game in .5 PPR scoring. That’s a WR2 pace in 2018 and that was with Hill finishing as the overall WR3.
Better still were some of his metrics. Watkins’ 72.7% catch rate tied with Cooper Kupp for 9th among WRs with 50 or more targets. He only had one drop on 55 targets and his 1.91 average yards of separation per target was 3rd among WRs per playerprofiler.com. These are exactly the type of efficiency numbers that you would expect when a very talented WR is on the field with a generational QB. Can he make an elite pairing with Patrick Mahomes and make the leap to WR1 territory in 2019?
The Path for 2019
The target for Watkins is 200 fantasy points which would have returned an overall WR12 or better finish in each of the last four seasons. This is where those 2.09 fantasy points per target come in. Watkins will need a minimum of 110 targets during the fantasy season to finish as a WR1. The answer starts with Patrick Mahomes himself.
Patrick Mahomes- There were many things that were crazy about Mahomes’ 2018 season. He may never reach 5,000 passing yards or 50 TDs again, but he actually didn’t throw as many passes as you might expect. KC itself was 10th in the league with a 61.46% pass rate. Mahomes threw 580 times, which is high but certainly not the 600+ attempts you may expect from someone who threw for 5,000 yards. His TD rate and yards per completion may(probably will) come down especially if Hill misses time, but there’s also some chance his pass attempts may increase from last year. We’ll just assume his pass attempts stay around 580.
Kansas City’s Offseason- KC’s offseason has been pretty terrible as a whole. Hill has dominated headlines as the legal situation concerning his son’s broken arm and threats to his girlfriend continue to play out. Given his history of domestic violence and the team’s decision to suspend him from team activities, I’d guess a lengthy suspension is forthcoming. At this p,oint there is so much going on behind the scenes that we can only guess what the NFL will do with Hill’s case, but I don’t see where the NFL can avoid a PR nightmare without a harsh punishment for Hill. I’d say an eight-game suspension would be a best-case scenario(from a strictly fantasy football standpoint), but I’d put my money on a full-year suspension.
KC lost some key pieces on offense and defense. Kareem Hunt signed with CLE after being released by KC last year, Center Mitch Morse signed with BUF, and Chris Conley signed with JAX. De’Anthony Thomas and Kelvin Benjamin saw some snaps in 2018 but have yet to resign with the team. KC also lost Dee Ford and Justin Houston who combined for 22 sacks.
KC added Safety Tyrann Mathieu and Carlos Hyde, but the aggregate is a downgrade to the run game and defense. The only fantasy relevant player they drafted was Mecole Hardman. Hardman is about as close as you can come to a size/speed Hill clone. Hardman may be Hill’s replacement someday, but he’s a very raw rookie.
Health- It’s impossible to talk about Sammy Watkins without addressing injuries first and foremost. Watkins has had three seasons with 13 or more games, but he’s missed at least one game every year since his 2014 rookie year including 16 games over the past three seasons.
Injuries are binary to me-players are either healthy when we draft them or they’re not. We simply cannot predict injuries. That being said, I don’t feel completely comfortable penciling him in for a full 15-game fantasy season. To me, the question is can he get those 110 targets needed for a 200 point season in 13 games? The key number then becomes a 23% market share if we project Mahomes for another 580 pass attempts in 2019.
Competition for Targets- Travis Kelce is a near lock to repeat his 150 targets from last year and we can add another 25 targets for the other TEs. The running backs are good for another 115 targets. That leaves 290 targets for the WRs, which is in line with the 274 targets they’ve averaged as a group the past three years.
Conley left with his 52 targets and Hill is likely to leave half or more of his 137 targets from last year. If Hill is off the field, Watkins’ primary competition for WR targets is rookie Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson.
Hardman had 73 total touches in his college career at Georgia and Robinson has yet to exceed 40 targets in any year of his NFL career. We could give them a generous 100 targets, other WRs 50 targets, and that still leaves 120-140 targets over a full season for Sammy Watkins. He would need 133 targets over a full season(110 over 13 games) to achieve that 23% market share so a WR1 season is attainable even if Watkins only gives us 13 games.
This doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the article because it starts to feel like ‘rosy colored’ hindsight analysis, but it’s just relevant enough for this article. In order for a WR to earn a 23% market share on a team that throws the ball 560-600 times, they’re going to need to consistently receive seven or more targets in just about every game. Here’s how Watkins has performed the past couple of seasons in the nine games he did receive seven or more targets:[lptw_table id=”159808″ style=”default”]
If you project out using the 15.09 fantasy points/game he scored, you would get 196.16 fantasy points over a 13-game season. 15.09 fantasy points/game over a 13-game season is almost identical to T.Y. Hilton‘s 2019 season and would have been good for an overall WR13 finish last year (That’s why we’re looking for 8.5 targets/game and not the 7.67 targets/game he averaged in our sample). If you take Watkins’ 1.97 fantasy points/target and extend that to 110 targets, you would get 216.49 fantasy points. That would have been an overall WR10 finish last year.
Let’s go straight lottery ticket here. 15.09 fantasy points/game over a full season would have placed Watkins at overall WR9 just behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. 1.97 fantasy points/target with 133 targets (23% market share) would give you 262.01 points. That would have been good enough for overall WR3 edging out….Tyreek Hill.
I know you’ve probably been burned by Watkins before. I wouldn’t feel comfortable relying on him to return a WR1 season, but if I can get WR2 numbers from him when Hill is on the field and WR1 numbers if Hill is off the field, then the fifth- or sixth round price tag is well worth it. In the most recent episode of The Fantasy Footballers Podcast, hosts Andy, Mike, and Jason talked about how Sammy Watkins was being drafted well after other WRs in the same tier showing that the fantasy hate for Watkins has probably gone too far.
Even if Watkins doesn’t play the full year, how many weeks of WR1 or WR2 production would it take for you to say ‘yeah that fifth round price was worth it’? Six weeks? If he gave you a few weeks of WR1 or WR2 production, wouldn’t his trade value alone exceed his current draft position if you were worried about his health over a full season?