Yes I know, before anyone tells me, Sammy Watkins is injury prone and inconsistent.
I know. Everyone does.
In four of his six seasons in the NFL, Watkins has missed games due to injuries, and has been on IR multiple times. He even suffered injury problems at Clemson.
As for the inconsistencies you see people mention, that can be explained with some context (I think). I’d say the main reason comes back to injuries, obviously your numbers won’t be the same when you miss games and can’t get into a rhythm.
Also, in the past three seasons Watkins has been on offenses ranked 1st, 1st, and 5th in PPG, respectively. This indicates he’s been on some stacked offenses with a lot of weapons to get the ball too. Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Mecole Harmon are some of the names he’s shared the field with in that span. On a team like the Panthers, it’s hard to say the offensive cast will be as deep as the Rams or Chiefs were.
Watkins is set to make about $14 million next season with the Chiefs. A restructure or pay cut seems unlikely on Watkins’ side, and as high of an upside as he has, there’s almost no way the Chiefs don’t cut him at that price. So if I had to guess, I’d say Watkins would be a free agent.
Let’s look at some tape on what he could offer the Panthers…
Firstly, we’ll start off with a fun one. Watkins catches the slant, bursts up the field for 60 yards of YAC and takes it to the house. It’s forgotten when you share a field with Tyreek Hill, but Watkins would be the fastest guy on a lot of NFL teams:
There’s a difference between being quick and being fast. Some guys don’t possess both traits at an elite level, Watkins does though. Completely sells his upfield route, plants, and changes directions 180 degrees to create some separation for the easy completion:
Another display of his quick movements here, gets a good release on the seam route but Mahomes just can’t connect with him. Now I do think this a good time to point out one of Watkins flaws, his catch radius doesn’t seem to be quite as large as some top receivers. I’m not blaming this incompletion on Watkins in any way, it could’ve been a better throw, I’m just simply pointing out that he’s not one of those guys that “catches everything thrown his way”. He ranked 88th in the NFL this past season with a true catch rate of 75.4%.
Obviously it helps to have a guy like Patrick Mahomes that can keep plays alive like that and has a cannon, but being able to help extend a play like this and outrun a guy that just won Defensive Player of the Year certainly isn’t a bad thing:
This clip is from his one season with the Rams in 2017, gets the inside release on the go route, explodes up the field, and hauls in a difficult catch:
Let’s take another look at some of Watkins route running skills. His first step on his break into the deep crosser is incredibly efficient, as a matter of fact it looks like his speed increased on the break like he a hit a turbo ramp in Mario Kart:
And lastly, when you have an offense like the Panthers with many guys who have a lot of versatility in roles they can play, Watkins could fit right in if he’s able to be used like this too as well:
So, what role would Watkins have on the Panthers? This past season 437 of his snaps came from the slot, compared to just 233 on the outside, is that how the Panthers would use him? I’m not so sure.
It’s not a secret that Curtis Samuel is the best route runner on the team currently (and also saw the lowest percentage of catchable targets of qualified receivers at 63%), so he’d stay on the outside regularly.
For DJ Moore, however, despite the breakout year he had would still be best fit in the slot primarily in my opinion. He so strong, both at the catch point and with the ball in his hands, that he’s best used on slants and other quick routes. This is why I think a player like Watkins would be a great fit on the opposite side with Samuel.
Roughly 70% of Samuel’s stats came from the left side last season so I think it’s fair to say he’s more comfortable there. That shouldn’t be an issue with Watkins though, as his left/right splits were nearly 50/50 so he should be fine on either side.
As for what a potential contract would look like, it’s hard to say. If Watkins won’t take a pay cut on his $14 million deal right now, how much lower would he go?
This is supposed to be a deep WR draft which could mean one of two things:
Either it means that all the WR’s on rookie contracts that could be taken lowers Watkins value on the market and the Panthers could get him a little cheaper, or it could mean that the Panthers are one of those teams that see no reason to sign him because of the WR’s in the draft.
It’s way too early to tell what type of cap space the Panthers will be looking at due to Cam Newton’s future being undecided and cuts yet to be made, but if the price right, the Carolina Panthers should absolutely take a chance on Sammy Watkins.***
*** – If Cam Newton remains in Carolina