Wide receiver Sammy Watkins gave us several indications during the offseason that this year would be vastly different for him than other seasons — in a good way.
In late May, he said he felt like a kid again. In July, he explained that this year would be his healthiest because of schedule adjustments. He didn’t overwork; he followed the Chiefs’ advice on how to train.
The point is, we could have, or maybe even should have, seen this coming. In the Chiefs’ first game — when the team needed it the most after Tyreek Hill suffered a rare injury — the 26-year-old receiver exploded for nine receptions, 198 yards and three touchdowns.
“Well, from the first (catch) on, you saw him break tackles and split seams,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after the game. “There were no indecisions after catches. He’s big, he’s fast and he is strong. We’re moving him all over the place and he is smart, so that helps. I think that combination is what contributed to that. We asked him to play that zebra position and he didn’t blink at that. He said put me in and let me go and I will do my thing. He plays inside and outside.”
Watkins’ first touchdown came within the first two minutes of the game. He said it was a result of “just playing fast.”
“Usually I don’t get the ball, but somehow [Patrick Mahomes] looked at me and I looked at him and I caught it and ran as fast as I could, and it felt great. I’ve never had a touchdown in this league to break a tackle and run 67 yards. It felt really good.”
In the NFL’s official game book, it was a 68-yard grab.
VIA ESPN: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watkins reached a max speed of 21.33 mph on his 68-yard touchdown, eighth-fastest by any player since the start of the 2018 season.
“It was a play where Tyreek, obviously, was the first read,” Mahomes said. “I actually was looking for (Travis) Kelce to get open and Kelce struck back out and he took that defender with him. So, I just laid it out there for Sammy and he made a great catch, first off, and that was all I was expecting. He made a quick move and shut off the speed that, we were saying, goes back to his Clemson days.”
It wouldn’t be too long before Watkins added another score. Later in the quarter, Mahomes found a lapse in Jacksonville’s coverage, and when Watkins caught his touch pass, there was nothing but green turf in front of him. Watkins finished with 151 yards in the first quarter alone.
“It’s always hard to match up with him,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone explained. “We were in a lot of zone though, especially early on. They were just getting in the seams and speed, just catching it and going. When you look at it, they’ve got top guys at each position. They’ve got Pro Bowlers there. It’s like everyone says, ‘Well you should have covered him. You doubled him.’ During the week, a lot of people are giving you a lot of advice on who to double. At the end of the day, you double No. 10 or you double No. 87 and you singled on this and you singled on the backs coming out of the backfield.
“There’s a lot of things going on and that’s the pressure they put on you. That’s why they are one of the top offenses in the league and one of the best offenses to come around in quite a while. When you look at the questions I got this week, national media-wise, it’s where do these guys rank?”
Watkins’ third and final touchdown came in the fourth quarter, putting the Chiefs up 37-13 and making the game out of reach. Watkins got the best of Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the 3-yard play.
Watkins said he never anticipated this level of production in his first game out — but once it happened, he credited those around him.
“I think I just really trust the coaches and follow the plan this whole offseason—the load that they gave me, switching different positions,” Watkins added. “Really just honing in on it. Putting the effort in, studying those plays and being on the right page with Pat. And it led to me knowing all the positions and going out there and playing fast and having fun and not going out there thinking.
“Last year, I feel like I really didn’t know my role and the whole offense, and I couldn’t go out there and play fast. This year, just trusting in Pat and coach Reid and (wide receivers coach) Greg Lewis—literally, everyone that’s helped me get to this point. I’m grateful, have grace, and I just got to continue to go out there every day and work.”
Reid agreed with the notion that Watkins’ success probably stemmed from being in his second year in the system.
“He has always come back from injury so the demands of training camp when he came to us was a bit of a shocker,” Reid said. “Thought the (2018) season, it was tough, he got nicked up a little bit in camp last year and he was fighting back from that. Here he has been healthy. He hasn’t missed an OTA practice. He was one of the best receivers I have seen coming out of college. He was phenomenal and this is what you saw today. This is a tribute to the kid 100 percent.”
“We’ve said it all offseason,” Mahomes added. “Sammy, the way he has prepared his body, the way he’s practiced. He really understands the offense at a different level than he did last year. And so, whenever he got his number called, he made plays. I mean, the first play that he scored, whatever yard touchdown that was, he was like the third or fourth read, he made someone miss and he scored. So, just having a better understanding of the full offense lets him play faster and he can see that that offseason is paying off.”
The one aspect of Week 1 that jumps out is just how humble Watkins sounded throughout his pre and post-game media availabilities. Headed into the game, he refused to put a number on potential season production because he knew how many talented offensive players the Chiefs have.
After the game, he kept mentioning the word “grace” and how this year, it’s been all about his new mentality.
Just want to say I’m thankful for my family, teammates, coaches and fans great to feel the support around the universe it starts with me but I couldn’t have done it by myself I’m grateful have nothing but grace and gratitude thank you I love you all..! #LIMITLESS14 #WIZARD14— King me (@sammywatkins) September 9, 2019
“I think just coming into work, and that’s all I’m about,” he said. “I think that’s the foundation that I’m building. Everything else, the yards, everything else adds up. Just come to work every day and be myself and bring great energy—that’s my objective...
“I know how to practice now and I know what coach (Reid) wants out of me, and all my coaches, so if I can come out there every day at practice and put the work in, I think hard work in practice leads to great games and got to continue to stack that and move forward to the next game.”