The Buffalo Bills made quite a splash in this years NFL Draft, trading up from ninth to fourth overall and using that pick to select the explosive and gifted wide receiver, Sammy Watkins. By moving up to take Watkins, the Bills made a statement that E.J. Manuel is their guy and surrounding him with weapons is a top priority.
Though it would seem that they may have given up a little too much (ninth overall in 2014 and 2015 first and fifth round pick) for the acquisition of the former Clemson Tiger star, the pay off could turn out quite nicely for Buffalo.
Under head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills are a team that is heading in the right direction, but still needs some time to really bring things together. Though I don’t foresee a winning season in 2014 for Buffalo, especially not now with the loss of stud inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, the young talent on this team is beginning to mesh well with each other.
Including Watkins, Alonso and Manuel, guys like running back C.J. Spiller, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are the building blocks for Buffalo and the franchise continues to add more young talent to their roster each year.
Along with them, veterans like running back Fred Jackson and defensive end Mario Williams are also going to be big for the team, both in terms of production and leadership. For any team, having veterans in place to help teach and lead the rookies and younger players is big and really helps set the bar for those still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NFL.
Again, the Bills have a lot going for them right now and could turn into a very formidable opponent within these next several years. This draft class could very instrumental in their efforts moving forward.
With only a short amount of time left between now and the start of the 2014 NFL regular season, the rookies will be looking to catch up with their peers and learn as much as they can of their playbooks. Which of them will have the biggest impact early?
Entire Rookie Class: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver; Cyrus Kouandjio, offensive tackle; Preston Brown, inside linebacker; Ross Cockrell, cornerback; Cyril Richardson, offensive guard; Randell Johnson, outside linebacker; Seantrel Henderson, offensive tackle.
Best Immediate Impact Rookie: Sammy Watkins, WR; 6’1″, 211 lbs.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
This was an easy choice, for more than one good reason. First off, Watkins was widely considered the top receiver in this year’s loaded crop of wide outs, including myself. His excellent natural abilities and explosiveness help make him a very dangerous target from anywhere on the field.
Secondly, with the departure of proven playmaker Stevie Johnson, who was traded to the 49ers for a conditional fourth round pick, there is now a hole at the number one receiver spot. I can think of no one better to take over than a player with the stellar athleticism and potential that Watkins possesses. Being thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie is not always a good thing, but I believe that he will be able to handle both the workload and strain of performing week in and week out at the pro level.
Lastly, this draft was a decent one for the Bills and potentially could turn out to be a good one, but there aren’t any players who can really step in and produce early, let alone produce at all. Both Kouandjio and Henderson are duking it out over this offseason for a starting gig at tackle and Cyril Richardson could sit for most of this season.
Preston Brown could be looking at a significant amount of playing time now that Alonso is down with an injury, but it will be hard for him, let alone of the rookie linebackers, to have the same kind of season that Kiko had his rookie season.
Fourth round pick, cornerback Ross Cockrell, is the other rookie who I can see earning some playing time, especially at the nickel corner spot. However, corner is one of the hardest positions for a rookie to adjust to in the NFL, so it would be silly to think that he will have any serious numbers over the course of the season.
Randell Johnson looks like a perfect candidate for a spot on special teams and will add some good depth to the Bills defensive front.
All of these are big factors into why Watkins is my guy for this spot. The coaching staff will be looking to ease Sammy into the number one receiver role while also pushing the young playmaker to do just that, go out and make plays for his new team.
E.J. Manuel could see his numbers take a significant leap forward should he be able to find Watkins on a consistent basis. There is so much that the Clemson product can do after the catch with the ball in his hands that it is almost unfair. Not only is he elusive and fast, but his aggressive and hard-nosed running style can really intimidate defensive backs and cause loads of problems for would-be tacklers.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on Watkins to perform and in a division where cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Brent Grimes, all play the Bills at least twice a year, it will make his job that much more difficult. But, then again, the NFL isn’t an easy league in which to play.
Given all of his athleticism and speed, there won’t be much that he can’t do for his team. Whether it is taking a screen pass and getting a first down or even returning a kick for a touchdown, Watkins will produce and continue to develop as a top target for his team and, potentially, in the league.
Looking at the entirety of the season and schedule that the Bills have for 2014, I see Sammy having good numbers for his rookie season, even with the difficult match ups that he will be facing in the AFC East.
2014 Regular Season Stats: 50-55 catches. 900+ receiving yards, five touchdowns and one kick return touchdown.