Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins had a disappointing sophomore campaign and between an arrest before the season and a lackluster effort in practices which he admitted. He wanted to come in and really work hard and have a tremendous junior year, which is exactly what happened. Watkins became one of the most dangerous players in college football and really became a big weapon in the Tigers offense this year, putting the team on his back multiple times and carrying them to a few wins.
Projecting to the NFL, Watkins has a strong build and terrific straight line speed that makes an extremely attractive prospect. He can do a great job running routes outside the hashes and over the top and has developed into a confident hands catcher. Watkins does not have ideal quickness and has some stiffness that makes him a power receiver that can have some trouble making opponents miss at times. He is a powerful runner who is not afraid to lower his shoulder and run over opponents. He is probably best served to be a #2 receiver rather than a true #1 and really is the ideal Z receiver. The potential is there for him to become a true #1 but he has some technical work to improve upon before he gets there. Watkins warrants a first round pick but he could go as high as the top 10 due to his overwhelming physical talent and the ability he has shown to take over games while at Clemson.
Vitals & Build
Watkins is listed at 6’1” 205lbs with a terrific build for the position. He has tremendous acceleration and overall speed, but his short area quickness is average and there is some stiffness in his hips that gives him some problems. Watkins is a tremendously strong player and does a terrific job of maximizing his power. The physical potential for Watkins really depends on how much he can improve his functional agility. He is likely going to keep getting stronger and his top end speed is great but his quickness may ultimately limit his ceiling at the next level. Watkins is unbelievable when it comes to going vertically and coming to a dead stop, but he is not as good when it comes to working laterally.
Route Running & Technique
Watkins has a great stance and really positions himself so he can explode forward while staying low. All of his motion is going forward and he can really take off going forward but has the control to stop, plant his foot and redirect.
In terms of his route running, Watkins is fantastic when it comes to sinking his hips and really showing strength from his plant foot in his cuts. He is also decisive in how he makes his cuts and that combined with his ability to press off of his plant foot enable him to create separation. Watkins is not terribly quick and has trouble shaking opponents, so his footwork is incredibly important to his success. Even when opponents are able to read what he is doing, Watkins can often accelerate really well out of the cut and outpace the defender when he has the space.
The route tree Watkins runs at Clemson is limited. He tends to run vertical routes, posts, comebacks, hitches, the occasional post corner and will use some drags along with a heavy dose of bubble screen looks to keep opponents guessing. Watkins wins with speed and execution rather than having the ability to shake opponents with his quickness. He has good body control and can plant and change directions well. Watkins tends to work from the hashes and out, underneath or coming into the middle of the field late. There are times when he will run a quick hitch that angles into the field, but much of the time, those are actually used to set up a wheel behind him.
Watkins really does not do much that works on quickness or attacks the middle of the field. Some of this may purely be due to the Clemson offense but there are some questions about how well he can execute those types of routes with how he has trouble with his short area quickness. It is tough to perform quick cuts with how far he sinks his hips. It is terrific for the routes he does and does them well, but his hips may ultimately be too stiff to play in the slot or run those types of routes.
Watkins has made improvements with his hands and gotten more consistent from last year. He demonstrates an impressive overall catch radius and is able to contort his body to adjust to passes that are behind him and really excels on passes that are over his head. Watkins still has some drops but they appear to be as a result of concentration rather than a hands issue. He will occasionally try to run before he has the catch which can have the ball bounce off of his hands and hit the ground.
For the most part, Watkins is a hands catcher and really seeks to catch everything away from his body. While there are occasionally drops, the fact he is so confident in using his hands, there is reason to believe he can become a really effective pass catcher at the next level.
Watkins can outrun opponents and lose them and get separation when he runs effective comeback routes, but he gets far less separation in general than people might expect considering his overall athleticism. Some of this is going to happen more frequently in the NFL with better defenders.
The good news is that Watkins is not uncomfortable making contested catches. He is not afraid to go up and get the ball or catch the ball in tight spaces. Watkins shows the ability to use his body to shield opponents from the football, but he simply needs to be more consistent in doing it. There are times when Watkins will not come back and attack the football; rather working to go further down the field and advance a pass play he has not caught yet. The result is that opponents end up getting their hands on passes they should not, which has ended up with an interception at times.
Run After Catch
After the catch, Watkins is a pure power receiver. He gets a great body lean and is not afraid to lower his shoulder or use a stiff arm on opponents. He looks to deliver opponents and often takes the action to them, daring them to stop him. When he has the room to exploit, he has the speed to take the play all the way.
Watkins is able to make opponents miss with some quickness, but it does not happen nearly as often as his reputation might suggest. For the most part, it comes down to getting what his blockers can open up for him, but he usually likes to use jump cuts or jump stops to make opponents miss him. It is a little surprising how often he runs himself into tackles and does not read or adjust to his blocks well.As a result, Watkins tends to be far more comfortable using his speed to stretch plays out and simply trying to outrun opponents and work his way around the corner.
Watkins is dangerous, however, because he is so powerful and strong. If he can continue adding power, if he can get into positions when he is in a one on one situation, he can defeat an opponent with a stiff arm and simply outrun the rest, but he is not a player who is going to get out of traffic with quickness all that often.
He does excel at vertical routes and is able to catch the ball to continue his run, which makes it difficult for opponents to catch up with him or chase him down. When he starts ahead, he stays ahead so if his quarterback puts the pass on him down the field, he will score it.
Watkins never looks all that comfortable as a blocker. He goes out to execute his assignment and then it is as if he has a spastic reaction when he is supposed to throw a block and gets caught in between what he wants to do. For the most part, he does fine in terms of getting in position to be between the defender and the ball carrier, but then he runs into problems. It is almost as if he is trying to fake out his opponent with his choice rather than just doing it, so he will mirror him a little bit and then dive at his legs or he will launch himself and be off balance. The most comfortable he ever looks is when he is going for a crack back block and he only has one thing he needs to do and he does and does it. It is not always cleanly landed but at least that defender is not going to make a play. Watkins would be better off just working on stock blocking and not worry about the rest of it. Get in the way, mirror the guy and attack him and try to push him off the field. It does not get any simpler than that and Watkins is more than strong enough to do it.
Watkins is as good as anyone to stand back and watch kickoffs sail over his head. If anyone kicks it short, his straight line speed and decisiveness make him a great option on kick returns.
Watkins is at his best in a vertical passing system with a quarterback who can really stretch the field with arm strength. He is suited to play on the outside and while he could line up in the slot, he should still end up attacking outside the hashes or down the deep middle of the field. Watkins has to work to improve his ability to run quicker routes but can come in and make an instant impact on the outside as a deep threat and working back to the football.
Watkins would probably be best suited to be an elite #2 receiver but could be a #1. He has the potential to be a true #1, but his skillset does not seem to be wide enough where that is his best situation. Watkins is great at what he does, but that is really not a full range of skills for the position.
Watkins’ best comparison is Donte Stallworth, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints but enjoyed his best success with the New England Patriots. Stallworth went 13th in the 2002 NFL Draft because of the same type of speed and strength that Watkins has, but he had trouble living up to those expectations. He ultimately flourished when he was put with the Patriots and able to work across from Randy Moss. Stallworth was able to stretch the field and work vertical routes extremely well. Watkins has more potential than Stallworth had especially with his strength, but they are extremely similar in terms of how they came into the NFL and Watkins could end up going around the same pick that Stallworth did.
Watkins has tremendous straight line speed, strength and shows some impressive hands. His route running in outside the hashes attacking down field and coming back to the quarterback are excellent and he is a good power receiver. Watkins is not all that quick and has stiff hips and does not make opponents miss often in college. There is potential to continue getting better in the NFL, but he ultimately appears best suited as a high end #2 receiver rather than being a true #1 as he does not seem to have the overall skill set to do the job. Watkins projects as a first round pick. While it would not be surprising at all if he ends up going in the top 10-15 picks, he may have trouble validating that pick in the long run.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com