When attaching a grade to the Buffalo Bills picking former Clemson Tigers‘ world-beating wideout Sammy Watkins in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft, the suspense factor is nonexistent. Not only does the selection receive an “A+” mark, but it also deserves an honor-roll endorsement topped off with a standing ovation.
The ongoing chorus of boos aimed at Roger Goodell was the only comical aspect surrounding this trade-up maneuver, as Buffalo sent the No. 9 overall pick, plus first and fourth rounders in 2015, to the Cleveland Browns in order to move into the No. 4 spot. Some would say a steep price was paid, but the overwhelming majority should feel that a definitive statement was made; the latter shall prevail in short order.
Even when the sporadic last-minute rumors of trading into the front half of the top-10 began to surface, the Bills’ faithful were resigned to the fact that the only potential game-changers on offense suiting up in Western New York were either going to be TE Eric Ebron or if fellow WR Mike Evans miraculously fell into their laps when the No. 9 pick rolled around.
Well, as the Blake Bortles celebration was sweeping across South Florida and the trade was announced, the Watkins pipe-dream was about to become a reality.
Are there needs in other areas? (specifically offensive tackle, an upgrade at TE, replacing Jairus Byrd in the secondary, and improving the front-seven) The answer is undeniably affirmative. However, when the opportunity presents itself to acquire a rare talent such as Watkins, you run (not walk) to the podium. Let’s remember the fact that Buffalo still resides in the ninth-hole in five of the next six rounds.
In the midst of all the chaos and jubilation was the chance to visualize just how ideal Watkins is for the Bills’ offense. How many wide receivers on the roster can utilize their open field ability on short-screens (the Denver Broncos‘ money-maker) and take it to the house on any given play? A la Demaryius Thomas. Marquise Goodwin owns the speed but still lacks the assertiveness. Watkins, on the other hand, is not only a track-star, but he can also run right through would-be tacklers, only trailing the aforementioned Evans in the initiating-contact department from this year’s draft class.
Robert Woods is one of the more polished wideouts to come into the league in quite some time, displaying the innate ability to run proper routes. He now promises to be the ultimate long-term secondary option. This allows Watkins’ field-spreading attributes and red zone aptitude to take center stage.
Now let’s bring the elephant (Stevie Johnson) into the room. In a perfect world, Stevie Styles remains in a Bills uniform, but unfortunately the writing is now on the wall for the departure of the fan favorite and underrated receiver. With the recent Mike Williams addition, it most likely now exists as a formality. Buffalo could recoup a few lost draft picks in the process if this scenario plays out, but still the thought of all four creating havoc for the same team is a tantalizing one.
While in college, Watkins was just the fourth freshman in history to receive the AP First-Team All-American nod; the company of Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson and Herschel Walker catapulted him into an elite category from the very beginning. Every Bills fan should not only be drooling over his 2013 season of 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also be headed to YouTube to relive Watkins’ 16-reception Orange Bowl performance which was a true dismantling of a defense.
Buffalo hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in 14 years (the longest drought in the NFL) and has ranked outside the top 20 in scoring offense in eight of the last nine seasons (22nd in 2013). The new regime has made the first move, as the offensive arsenal has been filled with a Christmas gift, and it’s now up to E.J. Manuel to open his present. Stay tuned.
In case you missed it: Grade: A+