Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins had a season to forget in 2012. After a stellar freshman campaign in which he was named an AP All-American, Watkins got off to a terrible start as a sophomore. He was suspended for the first two games as a result of an offseason drug arrest, and then missed a road trip to Boston College thanks to an abdominal virus.
He did show some flashes of brilliance, but they weren’t nearly as frequent as they were his freshman year. Despite big games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State, he saw his touchdown receptions fall from 12 to 3, and had his season end abruptly when he injured his ankle on the second play of their bowl game.
Heading into his junior year, the question becomes: Which Watkins is the real Watkins? Is he the explosive, versatile playmaker that dominated the ACC in 2011, or the kid who had a drug-related suspension and struggled with injuries in 2012?
Here’s a look at Watkins’ strengths and weaknesses as he tries to regain his dominant form in 2013.
Has good size for an NFL receiver
Has rare athleticism (comparable to Julio Jones)
Explosive first step getting off the line of scrimmage
Has elite top-end speed
Runs very smooth and effective double moves
Does a nice job catching the ball in his hands rather than using his body
Willing to run across the middle on in and drag routes
Natural runner after the catch, sets up his blocks really well on the edge
Has home run potential any time he touches the ball
Explodes getting in and out of breaks
Has great feet, vision and agility with the ball in his hands
Could also play on special teams in the return game, likely kick return
Makes a nice initial strike with his hands while stalk blocking
Has been a versatile weapon, playing all over the field (RB, slot, flanker)
Had a drug arrest that led to a suspension as a sophomore, GMs won’t like that
Not a polished route runner yet, but developing
Struggles to get off aggressive press coverage (see Florida State game)
Isn’t an elite leaper, doesn’t high point the ball as often he should
Sometimes doesn’t sustains blocks on the outside long enough
Has stretches of inconsistent production
Watkins received great news when quarterback Tajh Boyd passed up a chance to go to the NFL and decided to return to Clemson for his senior year. The duo has played together for two years and have developed a great chemistry in the pass game. The two will play several games on the national stage, starting in week one when they host the Georgia Bulldogs.
The only potential problem is that Watkins will likely face more double coverage this season. Last year, DeAndre Hopkins was perhaps the better of the two receivers, allowing Watkins to operate against single coverage a majority of the game. This year, Clemson doesn’t have anyone lining up opposite Watkins that is as talented as Hopkins. So once again, Watkins will be the focal point for defenses.
Regardless, Watkins seems to have learned from his challenging sophomore year and is committed to regaining his old form. He has all the physical tools to dominate again, and if he does, he will be drafted somewhere in the first round in 2014.
2014 NFL Draft Projection: First Round