The great strength of Sammy Watkins’ game is in the finer details.
If Sammy Watkins didn’t possess excellent hands and speed, he wouldn’t be a top prospect at his position. However, it’s the little things that make Watkins a special prospect.
Weeks ago, I profiled Allen Robinson’s penchant for leaving his feet to catch targets thrown at a height where he could have maintained his feet during the act of the reception. Consistent application of this detail will earn Robinson greater opportunities for yards after the catch.
Robinson is already a fine ball carrier, but even at 6’3″, 210-215 pounds, he’s better at avoiding defenders than he is running through tackles. This is based on watching Robinson at Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Central Florida, and Nebraska).
Attention to detail is an essential reason why Watkins is ahead of the rest of his draft classmates. The Clemson receiver is like a jazz musician playing in a pop band – few appreciate every nuance because the knowledge often requires hours of study or an enormous intuitive feel for the game to get beyond the environment of the performance to see everything that makes him special.
I’m sharing two plays that provide glimpses into what makes him special, but some miss because they either haven’t seen enough snaps of Watkins or they are too chained to the Clemson scheme to see the skills that transcend it.
The first is a classic case of great process, bad result. I love sharing these plays, because they underscore my belief that behavior is more reliable than the outcome.
The second is a case of great process, great result, and an uncommon play for the Clemson offense. The process also reveals skills that translate to other aspects of Watkins’ game.
Great Process, Bad Result
The play is a 12-personnel, 1×1 receiver set with Watkins as the receiver on the left inside the numbers of the flat. He’s positioned two yards behind the line of scrimmage and the cornerback has outside shade and five yards of depth.
By the way, the Ohio State corner does a fantastic job on this play because he has Watkins one-on-one with no safety help. Here’s the formation pre-snap.
The single safety is at the opposite flat, which is a huge key that Watkins is facing single coverage. Tajh Boyd recognizes this coverage and the opportunity to deliver a quick throw for Watkins to win one-on-one.
However, Boyd’s throw lacks the precision for the situation. Watkins has turned to the quarterback and squared his pads to provide a good target, but Boyd leads the receiver too far into the teeth of the oncoming defender.
Watkins doesn’t react the way I see from countless receivers that I watch in these situations where the ball is thrown above chest-level. The receiver extends his arms away from his body and attacks the ball, but he does not leave his feet.
Watkins also frames his body so his pads and hips are down field and the ball ahead of him. Screen after screen in this game, this receiver gets into this position before catching the ball.
I never see this kind of attention to detail on a screen or throw-out that is one of the simplest routes to execute for a receiver. Moreover, Watkins’ approach is extraordinarily consistent.
Despite the impending contact, Watkins stays true to his process. He understands it gives him the best chance to win the match-up and at worst, prevent a bad outcome.
Watkins’ technique places the receiver in position to make the catch, secure the ball to his sideline arm, and extend his free arm to attack the defender with good pad level and leverage despite the defender’s advantage.
There’s no way Watkins has a chance to contest this hit if not for his pre-catch attention to detail. As the contact collapses Watkins stiff arm, the receiver’s arm and pad level is like a shock absorber.
Watkins has enough balance and leverage to turn sideways through the contact. With the ball high and tight to the outside arm, the receiver withstands the corner’s attempt to rip the ball loose.
All of this sound technique is the reason Watkins is able to absorb the contact, push back and force the defender to the ground. If Watkins doesn’t collide knees with the defender, I believe he runs through the contact up the left flat.
The corner does everything right on this play to win the match-up, but Watkins’ fundamentals make it a win by the slimmest of margins. Don’t be surprised if you see Watkins win some of these plays in the NFL – and win big.
Great Process, Great Result
Watkins’ critics say that the receiver only runs screen plays and he’ll need the right scheme to thrive in the NFL the way he thrives in college football. This statement implies that all he can do well is run screen plays or zone routes.
Here’s a single coverage route – one of the prettiest examples of route running I see in college football.
The initial release is patient and a straight line into the body of the defender with good pacing that remains constant throughout the route. One of the things that made Jerry Rice a great route runner was not only the fact that every route looked the same in terms of maintaining a straight line with every release, but also a consistent pace.
Varying speed can be a useful tool, but it’s an attempt to lull an opponent into a lapse of focus. Maintaining a constant speed puts the opponent in a constant state of discomfort.
This straight stem is 12-yards long and the top of the stem features a dip inside with the head turned and then a fantastic head fake outside-inside leading to a second jab-step inside and use of the shoulders that forces the corner to turn his hips. This sequence of moves are all performed without any variance in pace – difficult to do.
By the time Watkins breaks to the corner, he has left the corner in the dust. All of these qualities are performed with the same efficiency I see as a ball carrier – patience, pacing, and layers of moves.
It’s not an indicator of good route running with many receivers, but it’s behavior consistent with Watkins across all aspects of his game.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2014 RSP at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.