We’ve sure been up and down on Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins, haven’t we?
When Watkins was signed to a three year, $48 million contract ($30 million guaranteed) in March, 88 percent of Arrowhead Pride readers approved of the signing — even with an expensive contract for a receiver that had fewer than 600 yards for the Rams in 2017. Both Joel Thorman and Pete Sweeney said that Watkins, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill could be among the best triplets in the NFL.
In his initial film review of Watkins, then-analyst Seth Keysor could hardly contain his excitement, and he doubled down on the point.
In short, I’m a Watkins convert. I have no idea what it’ll look like on the field, but Watkins was much, much more impressive than I expected on film. And I went into it with pretty high hopes. His box score last year wasn’t anything to write home about, but his film absolutely was.
The Chiefs now boast the absolute best skill position group in the NFL. Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins are unmatched across the league. Only Pittsburgh is even close, really. If Mahomes is even 80 percent of what I think he might be, this is going to be an incredibly fun offense to watch.
But then, in the preseason, Watkins missed the first week against the Texans with a hip injury. Against Atlanta, he was targeted just three times. One of the passes were intercepted, another was nearly picked off right in front of him in the end zone, and he dropped the third.
So far this preseason, Watkins has been in for 24 snaps. And has zero receptions.
Fans, of course, started becoming restless. In an article on Wednesday, Pete Sweeney pointed out what many of us have been thinking:
At the end of the day, the cold, hard truth I’m realizing through watching this team through the first four weeks of the 2018 campaign is this:
At his best (which we have yet to see), Sammy Watkins will be the fifth most important player on the Chiefs offense this season.
And that would be perfectly fine, except the Chiefs paid him handsomely this offseason with a three-year contract worth $48 million, $30 million of which is guaranteed.
Pete wasn’t wrong. But let’s not step off the ledge. Not just yet, anyway.
Let’s remember that Sammy Watkins has played in four NFL seasons. He’s had four — count ‘em, four! — offensive coordinators during that time. And at each stop along the way, he’s had a lot of pressure on him — a point to which he alluded a few weeks ago, when he said he was grateful to be in a new situation with the Chiefs.
“I don’t have to come here and be somebody that I’m not,” he said. “I’ve got great guys that are going to make plays, and I can feed off of those guys. I don’t have to make every catch and every play.
”I know that if I’m not getting the ball, there are other guys that can go out there and score touchdowns. I can just go out there and run my route, and if I don’t get the ball, I know Travis or Tyreek or Kareem will get the ball, and we’ll score touchdowns.”
In his appearance before the press on Thursday, Watkins said that in Andy Reid’s offense — in which receivers need to know every position and route — he’s had to learn a lot more detail than he has for his previous teams. But he likes it.
“The hardest thing is moving around,” he said. “But it’s fun moving around - being on linebackers and nickel backs, which is kind of an advantage for me. The hard part about moving around is knowing everything - the details between every route. You have to stay in the playbook. You have to stay on point — reading three or four defenders. You’re not just lining up at the X and going against the top cornerbacks. You’re going against four or five different guys.”
Reid has repeatedly made this point about Watkins — and reiterated it for the press on Thursday.
“Sammy is still working through the offense,” he said. “I love his intensity on learning all the small things. We are moving him everywhere. You’ve seen that. We have him in all different spots. If you haven’t seen it in games, you’ve seen it in practice.”
But that’s the problem... right? We haven’t seen it in games. The near-interception in the end zone on Friday against Atlanta was especially concerning for Chiefs fans. Watkins clearly should have worked his way back to towards the line of scrimmage. But on Thursday, Watkins made no excuses about it.
“That was just bad judgement from me. I’ve got to come back to the ball. [If I had], that’s a touchdown.”
Watkins is aware that he’s getting negative press on his lack of production, but isn’t concerned.
“I know a lot of people are speculating, ‘Oh, he’s not getting targets.’ Not to say it’s just preseason, but there are a lot of other things I’ve got to learn in the offense to get used to, and that’s what Coach is doing a great job of letting me do.”
At this point, it’s reasonable to be concerned about Watkins’ production. We’re from Missouri, right? You’ve got to show us.
But it’s also reasonable to say that Watkins is facing a steeper learning curve than he’s ever faced in his career. It may take him a little more time to get everything down to the point he’s comfortable enough to once again rely on his talent and instincts as a receiver — which, lest we forget, are considerable.
Or... he’ll have six catches for 110 yards on Saturday, and we can forget all about this debate.
Is it time to panic about Sammy Watkins?
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