This series encompasses the most polarizing players at each skill position in dynasty. They may be coming off overtly strong or disappointing seasons. They may be on an unsteady situational ground. In this installment: Sammy Watkins.
Sammy Watkins was an elite prospect exiting Clemson. While being drafted in the top-5 of the NFL Draft is a low-hanging fruit litmus test of a prospect's strength, Watkins also dominated the projection model. He was in the top-1% of the receiver model, breaking out at 18.2 years old in college after being an elite recruit, a thick build, +21% Athleticism, and high Production score. In short, Watkins was a clean dynasty prospect across the board, sitting atop the receiver rankings of a loaded 2014 class.
Watkins is among a rather select group of receivers to hit more than 2,000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns by the end of their age 23 season. I have mentioned before the sweet spot for consistent and prolonged receiver production historically begins at age 24/25 and runs to 29 or so. The 2014 class turned those expectations around, but Year 1/2 strong production remains the exception, not the norm, for a tough position for college to NFL transition.
Back to Watkins' career start...looking at Round 1 NFL receivers in the 2,000-yard, 15-touchdown group, this eliminates the true 'busts' who failed to grab hold of the NFL stage in their early years. The two big blemishes I see for Watkins' value/perception sag is two-fold: situation and injury. Buffalo's quarterback situation has been tenuous since Watkins' arrival and despite Tyrod Taylor's overall efficient play of late, the Bills have little allegiance/confidence in Taylor being 'the guy' moving forward. The second is Watkins, after playing 16 games as a rookie for 65-982-6, has played 21 games the past two seasons combined. It is worth noting Watkins has averaged more receptions, yards, and touchdowns on a per-game basis in 2015-16 than his rookie season. His yards-per-reception are up as well over the past two-year span.
Calvin Johnson was a year older exiting college, but his opening three years in the NFL were similar to Watkins. Johnson had two seasons where he totaled nine touchdowns. He averaged 14.7 YPC in Year 3, well-below his career mark. His 3-year yards-per-game total is similar to Watkins. He gained Matthew Stafford but the Lions were definitely a work in progress for those Calvin Johnson early years especially.
How about Julio Jones, who missed 14 games over his first three NFL seasons (again a year older than Watkins exiting college) with 10 touchdowns over 18 games in the two seasons of focus?
An example of injuries taking a toll would be Hakeem Nicks. His career peak ended up being in Year 2/3 where he missed four games total but still logged more than 2,200 yards and 18 scores between those two seasons. He was a shell of himself at 24-25 years old and nearly out of the NFL by 26. Nicks' injury history is a laundry list of foot-ankle-lower leg ailments. It was difficult to watch his peak years of impact followed by the shell of himself in his mid-20s.
While I am leery long-term with concussions and a few other non-talent related value factors with players, I defer to the medical folks in fantasy circles for long-term impact regarding cases like Watkins. Here is the latest from the good doctor Jene Bramel at Footballguys on Watkins:
In short, a balky foot has generally had good success rates upon a revision procedure, which Watkins had this offseason. Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Dez Bryant, and Julian Edelman are notable recent examples.
Let's look at the Bills offense since Watkins arrived in 2014 from a few FootballOutsiders.com metrics:
Overall Offense DVOA
Passing Offense DVOA
Watkins was at his best in 2015 and, without much help around him, the team passing attack was at No.12 in the NFL.
In 2014, Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel were the combined quarterbacks and Robert Woods (no offense) is a placeholder if higher than a No.3 NFL receiver on a depth chart. Scott Chandler was another ancillary target and Buffalo had zero tight end presence.
With VERY low volume, Tyrod Taylor was a breath of fresh air in 2015 under center with a nearly 64% completion rate and just 6 interceptions. However, he averaged an anemic 27 passes per game in the Rex Ryan offense. Charles Clay was an uptick at tight end, but Robert Woods was again the main secondary receiver.
In 2016, Taylor had a slight uptick to 29 passes per contest but the volume is still a concern with Rex Ryan. Woods was again marginal and Charles Clay a middling starting tight end in the grand scheme of the NFL power rankings.
In short, Watkins' situational value has been low through three seasons. Many project a high pick at receiver for Buffalo with Robert Woods gone and the Percy Harvin reclamation experiment complete.
With premiere talents (Watkins qualifies), I am very patient for their career peak season. Is Watkins' 80 YPG and 0.7 TD/G in 2015 his career peak? Outside of a complete physical derailment like Hakeem Nicks - which Watkins' history is not approaching Nicks as of now - I would be very surprised if we look back in a few years and point to 2015 as Watkins' highlight.
Beyond his talent and health, there have been systemic limitations for Watkins, who has seen a decent clip of market share targets for a No.1 receiver at ages 21, 22, and 23 years old.
Rick Dennison is the new OC with a general history of being above-NFL baseline for wide receiver production at his stops over the last decade in Denver, Houston, and Baltimore.
Watkins' ADP is in the early second round of startups and the WR10-15 range. I currently have Watkins in the WR5-8 range of valuation in most formats, representing a buy recommendation.
The best situations to acquire Watkins would be in a startup setting where Year 1 is not of primary concern with a UTH build. A rebuilding team would be advantageous to target Watkins if selling a bigger name or higher producer at wide receiver to a stronger contender in 2017, while the Watkins buyer can obtain additional capital. A strong, deep contending roster acquiring Watkins as an ancillary receiver is a potential value boon and luxury. Cashing in multiple lower-level talents/pedigree players for Watkins can be a win-win for both teams. The new Watkins owner can consolidate roster spots and acquire a blue chip talent outside their top-3/4 receivers, while the Watkins seller may view him as equally-risky as say, DeVante Parker, Kevin White, or others used in a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 composition deal.
In the dynasty marketplace, Watkins has been sold for as little as a collection of secondary assets like marginal fantasy starters and Round 2 rookie picks - the proverbial buying a dollar for three or four quarters transaction. Watkins has also been bought for things like Jordan Howard straight up, or getting Watkins and the 1.01 for Amari Cooper and future pick considerations.
As a Watkins buyer, use ancillary pieces to create a package of quarters to buy the dollar. Many dynasty owners make a single offer, wait for a response, then take the declination as the end of the dialogue on a player. Instead, offer many proposals including a variety of players and pick combinations of similar aggregate value to garner comments in reply or even an accepted deal. As a Watkins owner, patience is paramount in the early years of a productive and high-pedigree talent, especially when they are productive despite their surroundings and smattering of missed games. Hold firm and seek at least a fellow top-15 to top-20 dynasty asset as the main piece of a package if exploring the sell market on Watkins.
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