The New York Jets have a huge need at wide receiver this offseason, and most expect them to use their first round pick to upgrade the position. Geno Smith badly needs help, and you can make a pretty compelling argument that the Jets would have been a playoff team this season with even average play from their wide receivers. Given how badly they need to upgrade the position, the Jets will be carefully studying all of the top receiver prospects in this year’s draft.
The name at the top of that list is undoubtedly Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Watkins burst onto the college football scene as a freshman, when he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watkins missed two games due a marijuana related suspension as a sophomore and a third to injury, resulting in a down year that saw him catch just 57 for 708 yards and 3 TDs. However, Watkins bounced back in a big way this season, catching 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 TDs while leading Clemson to an Orange Bowl victory.
To put that in perspective, the Jets managed just 13 receiving touchdowns as a team this year, and Jeremy Kerley led the team with 43 catches for 523 yards. Watkins averaged 14.5 YPC this season, and he would bring a big play element to the passing game that the Jets simply don’t have. In truth, the Jets haven’t had a true No. 1 receiver that scares defenses since Keyshawn Johnson in the late 90s. That has to change this offseason.
Watkins has quickly separated himself from Marqise Lee and Mike Evans in this year’s receiver class, in large part due to his physical gifts. At 6’1″, 205 lbs with 4.4 speed, Watkins is the total package from a physical standpoint. There are numerous examples from his college career of his leaping ability, deep speed and explosiveness after the catch. Watkins is also an excellent kick returner if teams choose to use him in that role.
Watkins is far more than just an athlete, however. He has excellent hands and didn’t have more than the occasional drop in college, and there is no reason for NFL teams to be concerned about drops becoming a problem at the next level. Like most young receivers, Watkins needs some polishing as a route runner, but that is not at all a concern for teams. Watkins reminds me a lot of Andre Johnson (though not quite as big), and obviously the team that drafts him will be thrilled if he develops into that kind of player.
The Jets would love to be able to add Watkins, but there is a good chance he will be gone well before the Jets pick at No. 18. There are a lot of teams in the top 10 looking at Watkins as a potential second option if they don’t get a shot at Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews or whichever quarterback they want. The Jets will almost certainly have to trade up if they want to add Watkins.
Don’t rule out that possibility, however. The Jets have an extra third round pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, giving them the ammunition they need to move up a few spots if Watkins starts to slip. In my opinion, Watkins is the best receiver prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011, and he looks like a safe bet to be a Pro Bowl level player. That is exactly the kind of impact the Jets desperately need at the wide receiver position. It would take a big move to get him, but Watkins would be worth trading up for.