by Mario "Game" Granata
With the Buffalo Bills dropping two straight games, and falling to 5-5 this season, the attention in Western New York starts to turn to the 2015 NFL Draft. However, the Buffalo Bills are going to be without a 1st Round Pick due to the trade that they made on May 8th with the Cleveland Browns. The player in that trade: Sammy Watkins. Now, going into the draft, there was no question that the biggest offensive weapon in the 2014 Draft was Watkins, but it seems that much of the talk is circling around other wide receivers and the question rains down, “We could have had (insert name here) and still had out 2015 pick.” Well, a closer look at the numbers will explain that the Bills weren’t wrong in their bold move to obtain the services of Watkins.
Reason #1: Offensive Play Calling.
It is no secret that the Buffalo Bills have had suspect play calling from Nathaniel Hackett. Last year, Hackett was given a pass, with the revolving door of quarterbacks, and not a sure fire #1 wide receiver, how could he be held accountable for the futility of the offense? However, this season he has had the services of a 10-year veteran in Kyle Orton, and the infusion of Sammy Watkins to complement the crisp route running of Robert Woods. Still with a quarterback change, Watkins hasn’t missed a step, and has been a player that opposing defenses have to keep a lock on. When Bill Belichick assigns you to Revis Island, you have made it in the NFL. With the injuries that have occurred in the backfield for the Bills, and an increased attention to Watkins, he has still managed to put up some impressive numbers for a rookie.
Reason #2: The Running Game.
When Spiller and Jackson went out, more attention was moved toward the wide receiving core for the Buffalo Bills, and that is where defenses have shifted. Factor in the formations that the Bills run (mostly 2 wide sets) and there isn’t much mystery as to what they are going to do, and still Watkins has been able to draw enough attention from teams to allow Chris Hogan and Robert Woods to be left one-on-one to make plays. That is the one thing that seems to get overlooked in Watkins contributions to the offense. His mere presence allows others to shine, while still being productive.
Reason #3: Stats Sometimes Lie:
Names such as Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, and Odell Beckham have been thrown around as players the Bills should have drafted in lieu of Watkins, who wouldn’t have cost the Bills a first round pick in 2015. However, when you take a closer look at the seasons that these players are having, you can understand that the statistics are a little inflated.
Mike Evans has 27 of his 46 receptions when the Buccaneers are losing which translates to 59%. Its no secret when teams a losing, that they have to throw, so when the defense plays off coverage, it is easier for players to catch passes and inflate their stats. A closer looks sees that Evans has caught 9 passes when Tampa Bay is trailing by 16 or more for 20%. So 1 out of every 5 receptions of Mike Evans come when the opposing team is more than likely in a prevent defense. Also, factor in the fact that Evans is the #2 WR to Vincent Jackson, whereas Watkins is the #1 option for the Bills.
Odell Beckham has 25 of his 31 receptions (81%) when the Giants are trailing. Also, when you take into account that he didn’t start playing significantly until Victor Cruz went down, one could point to the offensive philosophy of the Giants in regards to the slot. Maybe their offense is tailored around routes to get the slot receiver open…but only when they are losing? 21 of Beckham’s receptions are in the second half with 8 of those when the Giants are losing by 16 or more (26%).
Kelvin Benjamin, along those same lines has caught 31 of his 51 receptions (61%) when the Panthers are losing. Even though he is in the same boat as Watkins as being a #1 option, the Panthers have Cam Newton who is just as lethal with his feet…a comparison to Kyle Orton he is not. Benjamin has 14 receptions this season when the Panthers are trailing by more than 16 points which translates to 27% of his receptions. Over a quarter of his receptions are coming in what people call “garbage time”. If you need a reference, watch the Panthers/Eagles game again.
So where does Sammy Watkins sit on these stats? Well, when the Bills have been trailing Watkins has caught 15 of his 45 passes (33%) and there is no stat for Watkins when the Bills have trailed by more than 16 because the Bills haven’t trailed by more than 16 in any game this year. So they have been in tightly contested match-ups, and so has Watkins balancing out his receptions when the Bills are winning, losing or tied. What is more remarkable about the receptions for all these wide outs is that Watkins is the only one who has more receptions in the first half than the second, which could mean 1 of 2 things: Why doesn’t Hackett try to get him the ball more in the second half, or teams are making even more adjustments at halftime to slow him down.
All in all, would I like the Buffalo Bills to have a first round pick in 2015? Yes. But as dynamic as Sammy Watkins is, I wouldn’t trade him for any other rookie in this year’s class, because of the way that he makes his teammates better around him. He is an amazing receiver who hasn’t been used to his full potential in the Bills offense this season, and the more amazing thing about Watkins is that the best is yet to come.