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The Other Side: Sammy Watkins wasn’t the Chiefs’ No. 2 wide receiver

Our series continues with a discussion about losing Watkins to the Baltimore Ravens.

New England Patriots Vs. Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In the second installment of our new series, we take another contrarian position, arguing the other side of the takes we may be seeing in social media and from national pundits on the Kansas City Chiefs. This week, we’re taking on the belief that Sammy Watkins was the No. 2 wide receiver in 2020, and he will need to be replaced.


The current prevailing thought: The Chiefs need to add a true No. 2 wide receiver to replace Sammy Watkins.

The other side: Watkins might not have even been the No. 2 wide receiver in recent years. In fact, the Chiefs offense doesn’t really feature a No. 2 receiver.


It seemed inevitable that the Sammy Watkins era in Kansas City would eventually come to an end. Like in his previous stops, his tenure here was marred with nagging injuries and long periods of limited production.

Let’s not get it twisted, though — Watkins will forever be remembered as one of the true heroes that helped bring the Lombardi trophy to Kansas City. He averaged five catches for about 90 yards in the playoffs and had the game-clinching touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. For that stretch alone, signing Sammy Watkins was well worth the money.

Most of us assumed that the Run It Back tour would end up similarly. Sammy would be invisible or injured often in the regular season, just to come back and be “Playoff Sammy” for a few games, helping the Chiefs repeat. Except, it didn’t end up quite as planned. Watkins missed five games during the regular season but was presumably getting healthy down the stretch, returning for Weeks 14 and 15. But then he was inactive for the first two playoff games and had only one catch in the Super Bowl, playing 31% of the offensive snaps.

If you look at the 2020 season as a whole, Watkins played about 47% of the snaps, considerably less than Demarcus Robinson’s 65%. Even in 2019, when Watkins was a greater part of the offense, he and Robinson had about the same share of snaps (70%). Going all the way back to 2018, when the offense was at its best, Watkins (43%) and Robinson (40%) again had a similar share of the snaps. Snap counts don’t tell the entire picture because, as we know, the Chiefs like to have three receivers on the field at a time. It’s safe to say that Hill is the No. 1, and Watkins and Robinson are (in some order) No. 2 and No. 3.

Looking at offensive production might give this question some clarity.

In 2020, Travis Kelce (1,416 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Tyreek Hill (1,276 yards, 15 touchdowns) had historic seasons catching the football. After those two, the production fell off substantially, but it may surprise some to realize that Mecole Hardman was next on the list (560 yards, 4 touchdowns), then Demarcus Robinson (466 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Sammy Watkins was behind them with 421 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2019, Watkins (673 yards, 3 touchdowns) was behind only Kelce (1,229 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Hill (860, 7 touchdowns). But Hardman (538 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Robinson (449 yards, 4 touchdowns) weren’t that far below him in terms of production. Even in 2018’s significant offensive season, Watkins (519 yards, 3 touchdowns) had production not too dissimilar from what we’ve seen from Hardman and Robinson in recent years.

Coming back to this season, Watkins is a Baltimore Raven, and there’s been a ton of hand-wringing about who can fill his shoes and be a true No. 2 receiver across from Tyreek Hill. Sure, the Chiefs took a couple of swings at the position in free agency, but it appears they are now content to go forward with Hardman, Robinson and rookie Cornell Powell as the wide receiver depth.

Are they in trouble?

I’d argue that this examination of snap counts and stats shows a few things:

  1. There’s no doubt that the Chiefs have elite No. 1 and No. 2 receiving targets in Kelce and Hill.
  2. Sammy Watkins wasn’t some super-reliable and productive “running mate opposite Hill” that can’t be replaced.
  3. The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes will spread the targets around among several receivers, so they really didn’t need Watkins to be too much more than what he was.
  4. It also shows that Robinson and Hardman are likely to continue to be substantial parts of the wide receiver group. They both have an argument to make that they — not Watkins — were the third receiving target after Hill and Kelce.
  5. Everyone else is a wide receiver-by-committee. There could be three or four guys who share the roughly 170 available targets, which means each could have 400-600 yards and three touchdowns.
  6. So, there is no No. 2 wide receiver, and maybe there never was.

Poll

After reading, where do you fall on this topic?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    The Chiefs need to add a true No. 2 wide receiver to replace Sammy Watkins.
    (584 votes)
  • 79%
    The other side: Watkins might not have even been the No. 2 WR in recent years. In fact, the Chiefs offense doesn’t really feature a No. 2 WR.
    (2334 votes)
2918 votes total Vote Now