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Sammy Watkins’ projected numbers for 2018

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Stats guru Gary McKenzie looks at the numbers and comes up with a projection for this season.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, you may have read my article about Andy Reid and his history with starting wide receivers. Now that we know more about Reid’s receivers, we can attempt to make a prediction for Sammy Watkins’ 2018 season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

There are a few stats I withheld from the historical article, and we’ll cover them here. We’ll use Reid’s starting wide receiver targets, receptions, etc. to see what history may have to say about Watkins’ chances for success in Kansas City.

Targets and receptions

Over the course of Reid’s career, his starting wide receivers have had targets that look like the following:

Please note: these numbers were generated by observing the season’s day one starting wide receivers. In some cases — like 2005 — receivers were injured, so the numbers are not based on a full season. This is why I used per game averages.

Of all the graphs I’ve generated while writing for AP, this may be my favorite.

The graph clearly shows Reid doesn’t quite have a bias towards his WR1, and he’s likely to distribute the ball somewhat evenly between his top two receivers.

I also like the huge spike created by Terrell Owens in 2004 and 2005, and the WR2 dip in 2013 when he went from Eagles Jeremy Maclin to the Chiefs’ Donnie Avery.

Now let’s look at receptions.

Looks pretty similar to the targets graph — as it should.

Now that we see how Reid’s receivers have been utilized over his career, let’s check out the 2017 Chiefs targets and receptions. This will give us an idea about how to project the targets and receptions Watkins may see in 2018.

2017 Chiefs Targets per Game

Player TGT/G
Player TGT/G
Travis Kelce 8.1
Tyreek Hill 7.0
Kareem Hunt 3.9
Sammy Watkins* 4.7
Albert Wilson 4.8
Demarcus Robinson 2.4
Demetrius Harris 2.2
Charcandrick West 2.6
All Others 4.2
All WRs 15.1
All TEs 10.7
All RBs 7.1
Total 33.0

*played with Los Angeles Rams in 2017

In 2017, the Chiefs averaged 33 targets per game. At first glance, this seems somewhat low — but you must remember that sacks and throwaways rob passing plays of targets. So yes... Reid called more than 33 pass plays per game in 2017. It’s just that throwaways and sacks don’t count.

I have no idea what happened to Watkins in Los Angeles, but I don’t believe it’s fair to assume Watkins role in Reid’s offense will be to the tune of 4.7 targets per game — there’s no way the Chiefs would pay Watkins $16 million a year to have less than 4.7 targets per game!

So we’ll start with Watkins’ career average of 6.7 targets per game.

We’ll touch on targets more in the next section. We’ll also look at team targets with Watkins’ projected numbers to see how the ball may get distributed to other members of the offense.

Before Reid vs With Reid

When making predictions, I like to try and find as much relevant data as possible. This is why I have tracked Reid’s free-agent wide receiver acquisitions over his career. I tracked a number of stats for starting receivers before and after they were picked up by Reid’s teams, so I could find receivers who were in similar circumstances as Watkins.

We’ll start by looking at targets and receptions again — this time looking at how players fared before and while Reid was their coach.

It’s important to note that I did not include Jeremy Maclin in this data. With Maclin playing all but two of his seasons with Reid — one with Chip Kelly and another with a terrible Ravens offense — I felt his situation did not directly compare to that of Watkins; when signed, Watkins was going to a new system, and Maclin had already been a part of Reid’s system. There just weren’t enough similarities.

Average Career Targets Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 6.03 6.37 0.06
Torrance Small 4.50 6.66 0.48
James Thrash* 4.63 6.53 0.41
Terrell Owens 8.01 10.43 0.30
Donte' Stallworth 6.41 5.83 -0.09
Kevin Curtis** 4.81 7.61 0.58
Donnie Avery 6.07 4.41 -0.27
Avg Change: 0.21

Average Career Receptions Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 3.25 3.33 0.03
Torrance Small 2.50 3.07 0.23
James Thrash* 3.13 3.49 0.12
Terrell Owens 4.89 5.90 0.21
Donte' Stallworth 3.48 3.17 -0.09
Kevin Curtis** 3.13 4.14 0.33
Donnie Avery 2.96 2.50 -0.16
Avg Change: 0.09

* Only James Thrash’s best year with Washington was included for comparison vs. Reid. Thrash’s first three seasons were spent without much of a role in Washington’s offense.

** Only Kevin Curtis’ last two seasons with St. Louis were included for comparison vs. Reid. Curtis did not have much of a role in the Rams’ offense in his first two years with them.

It’s nice to see how Reid’s receiver acquisitions have done over the years.

When Reid picks up a wide receiver, the normal trend is for that receiver to see an uptick in both targets and receptions. On average, Reid’s starting wide receiver acquisitions see a 21 percent jump in targets. Reid’s starting wide receivers also see a nine percent uptick in total receptions.

We’ll keep these numbers for our projections later.

On to the next stat — catch percentage.

Average Catch Percentage Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 0.54 0.52 -0.03
Torrance Small 0.56 0.46 -0.17
James Thrash* 0.68 0.53 -0.21
Terrell Owens 0.61 0.57 -0.07
Donte' Stallworth 0.54 0.54 0.00
Kevin Curtis** 0.65 0.54 -0.16
Donnie Avery 0.49 0.57 0.16
Avg Change: -0.07

On average, Reid’s starting wide receivers have seen a seven percent decrease when it comes to catch percentage.

This is very bizarre — and worrisome to me since Watkins didn’t have the greatest catch percentage with the Rams.

You’d think Reid’s West Coast offense would create higher catch percentages because of the high percentage passes it utilizes, but the opposite is actually true; Reid’s wide receivers typically have lower catch percentages. Strange.

Now let’s look at the most important stats — production qualifiers like yards per game, yards per reception, and touchdowns per game.

Average Yards Per Game Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 44.7 39.1 -0.13
Torrance Small 33.2 42.2 0.27
James Thrash* 40.8 43.1 0.06
Terrell Owens 72.8 93.5 0.28
Donte' Stallworth 49.8 60.4 0.21
Kevin Curtis** 40.0 56.3 0.41
Donnie Avery 38.0 35.1 -0.08
Avg Change: 0.15

Yards per Reception Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 13.8 11.7 -0.15
Torrance Small 13.2 13.8 0.04
James Thrash* 13.1 12.4 -0.05
Terrell Owens 14.5 15.8 0.09
Donte' Stallworth 14.3 19.1 0.34
Kevin Curtis** 12.8 13.6 0.06
Donnie Avery 12.8 14.0 0.09
Avg Change: 0.06

Touchdowns per Game Before and With Reid

Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Player Before Reid With Reid Percent Change
Charles Johnson 0.20 0.30 0.50
Torrance Small 0.24 0.24 0.02
James Thrash* 0.13 0.32 1.55
Terrell Owens 0.67 0.95 0.42
Donte' Stallworth 0.41 0.42 0.01
Kevin Curtis** 0.31 0.29 -0.09
Donnie Avery 0.22 0.09 -0.58
Avg Change: 0.26

I am very impressed with these numbers from Reid and his starting wide receiver acquisitions. Not only does the arrow(head) appear to be pointing up for Watkins — see what I did there? — but Reid should be applauded for his work with wide receivers over the years.

Maybe Reid is both a quarterback and a wide receiver guru.

Reid’s starting wide receiver acquisitions see, on average, a 15 percent increase in receiving yards per game, a six percent increase in yards per reception, and a 26 percent increase in touchdowns per game!

Wow!

We’ll use each of these numbers later when we make our predictions.

Games played

Since we’ve been focusing on games played averages we need to also predict how many games Watkins will play in 2018. I’m going to take the simple route here and just take the average season for Watkins.

Watkins played 16 games in 2014, 13 in 2015, eight in 2016, and 15 in 2017. So Watkins has averaged 13 games per season.

Prediction

Remember the percentage improvement averages from the Production section above? We’ll use those numbers over Watkins’ career averages to build our final prediction.

Sammy Watkins Career Averages

TGT/G REC/G Catch %
TGT/G REC/G Catch %
6.7 3.7 0.55

Sammy Watkins Career Averages

Yards/G Yards/Rec TD/G
Yards/G Yards/Rec TD/G
58.7 15.9 0.48

Now, if we apply the Reid increases and decreases, we get the following updated averages for Watkins:

Sammy Watkins - Projected 2018

TGT/G REC/G Catch %
TGT/G REC/G Catch %
8.0 4.0 0.50

Sammy Watkins - Projected 2018

Yards/G Yards/Rec TD/G
Yards/G Yards/Rec TD/G
67.4 16.8 0.61

From earlier, we predicted Watkins would play 13 games in 2018. This means Watkins would project to have the following numbers in 2018:

52 receptions on 104 targets — a 50% catch percentage
16.8 yards per reception for 876 yards. Eight touchdowns.

These numbers may seem low, but remember this is based on a 13 game season. It’s also important to note that Kelce, Hill, and Hunt will all need to eat too.

If Watkins is able to play an entire season, the projection would jump to 1,078 receiving yards and 10 TDs — which would be an impressive season.

Team targets

The last place I’m going to stop is to see how Watkins’ targets may affect the rest of the team. Earlier we discussed the Chiefs offense averaged roughly 33 targets per game in 2017.

With Watkins projected to see 3.2 more targets per game than Albert Wilson, who will those 3.2 targets be taken from? The targets can’t just appear out of thin air.

Here is how I could see the targets looking in 2018:

Sammy Watkins Potential Effect on Chiefs Targets

Player '17 TGT/G → '18 TGT/G
Player '17 TGT/G → '18 TGT/G
Travis Kelce 8.1 → 8.0
Sammy Watkins 8.0
Tyreek Hill 7.0 → 7.0
Kareem Hunt 3.9 → 3.5
Chris Conley 3.2 → 2.0
Demarcus Robinson 2.4 → 1.5
Demetrius Harris 2.2 → 1.0
All Others 4.2 → 2.0
Total 33.0 → 33.0

Watkins is going to need to eat, and it looks like he could take food from the plates of several Chiefs — most notably Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, and Demetrius Harris.

In this projection, Hill, Kelce, and Watkins combined for 70 percent of the Chiefs passing plays. Factor in Hunt’s receptions, and it’s 80 percent.

This is exactly what the Chiefs need to do. The ball needs to be in the hands of their best playmakers the majority of the time.

So what do you think about the projection? Do you believe Watkins will do better — or worse? Do you think the targets will shake out this way — or do you see a different distribution?

Let us know in the comments.