Sammy Watkins | 6'1, 205 pounds | Wide receiver | Clemson
2012 stats: 57 receptions, 708 yards, three touchdowns
By in large, the 2012 college football season was a forgettable one for Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Hot off a stellar freshman All-American season, Watkins began his sophomore year suspended two games following a drug-related arrest. He was also slowed by injuries and sickness, ultimately getting overtaken by DeAndre Hopkins as the Tigers' top receiver. Although Watkins didn't become an afterthought, he wasn't Clemson's true No. 1 in 2012. As SB Nation's Bill Connelly has charted, his target percentage dropped from 24.8 percent in 2011 to 16.9 percent in 2012. Hopkins, meanwhile, went from 21.4 to 28.4 over the same amount of time.
As a sophomore, Watkins registered 708 receiving yards and a scant three touchdowns. It was a far cry from his star-making freshman season that included 1,219 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns and standout special teams play.
What he does well
Watkins can be a factor lined up from the slot or outside. He'll likely be split out wide more than he's in the slot this season. In the past, he's played mostly from the inside, so going into the NFL, he should be capable of playing anywhere he's asked. Even if that means he becomes an "offensive weapon" kind of player. On Clemson's talented offense, Watkins gets used in a variety of ways. In addition to lining up at the receiver positions, Watkins gets used on a sweeps, reverses and has lined up in the backfield.
After the catch is where Watkins is particularly dangerous. A star in high school in the 200-meter, Watkins can be difficult to catch from behind. He's not just purely a straight-line runner, either. Watkins has agility and shiftiness with the ball in his hands and knows how to make defenders miss on tackles. Watkins also has a good understanding of when to slow down to set up his blockers. With that ability with the ball in his hands, Watkins could be an asset returning kickoffs in the NFL.
Watkins knows where to get on a field to get a first down. As obvious as this sounds like it should be, not every receiver will run a five-yard route on third-and-5. Watkins routinely does so at Clemson and can be a reliable target to create first downs.
As a pass catcher, Hopkins is sound. He consistently catches with his hands away from his frame and doesn't let many passes bounce off his pads.
What he needs to improve on
This season Watkins is moving to the boundary position, which Hopkins played a season ago. On the outside playing the "9" position, Watkins will have to learn how to create separation with his body. To do that, he has to be more physical off the line of scrimmage. It will be particularly interesting to see how Watkins develops this technique for third down plays. Watkins also has to get his timing down with Boyd as he transitions to playing outside.
This season, without Hopkins in the mix, Watkins will probably face double coverage regularly. With defenses keying on him more than ever, Watkins will have to be more crafty with his routes and figure out a couple more moves instead of just pure speed to get himself open.
Although it may be a consequence of the Clemson offense or Boyd's ball placement, Watkins doesn't display a lot of aerial athleticism. Because of that, and his above-average height in general, Watkins has some limitations in the red zone. While there are slants and certain timing routes he can use to get open, Watkins might not beat a lot of defenders on jump balls. At least to this point, he hasn't shown it on a regular basis.
While it's not an area for improvement, it's worth noting that Watkins missed a time last season with injury and suspension. As fun as he can be on designed running plays, he was injured in Clemson's bowl game by Barkevious Mingo on such a play.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney once lauded Watkins for his character, despite growing up in a troubled neighborhood. But then Watkins was arrested prior to last season, which unfortunately brings his attitude and off-field issues into question. That arrest, and a two-game suspension, clearly affected Watkins. He didn't seem as focused and was overtaken by Hopkins as the team's top receiver.
A new season will bring new challenges for Watkins. He's shifting to the outside and needs to get his timing down and be more physical off the line. Fortunately for Watkins he has incredible pure physical tools and should continue being one of college football's most dynamic players.
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