The Packers stunned the world this off-season by trading All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Immediately following, Packers fans waited with bated breath for an almost assured veteran addition to the wide receiver room.
Trade for DK Metcalf? Negative. AJ Brown? No chance. Robert Woods? Wrong again.
Welcome to Green Bay, Sammy Watkins!
*Thunderous applause ensues*
Not quite the splashy addition many were hoping for. In fact, 8 out of 10 Packers fans would have elected for a cardboard cut-out of Julio Jones over Mr. Watkins.
I’ve been casually aware of Sammy Watkins throughout his NFL career. My thoughts on him aligned with the prevailing opinion that he was a physically gifted player who was never quite able to put it all together due to injury woes.
Now that he’s a member of my team, I felt the need to dig a little bit deeper to find out what (if anything) the Packers are getting in Watkins.
I watched a few cutups of Sammy Watkins tenures in Baltimore and Kansas City and I came to a number of conclusions.
Watkins still has some juice when it comes to the deep ball. I think that he makes a lot of sense to play the deep threat role in the early going while Christian Watson acclimates.
Watkins tracks the ball well and made numerous highlight reel catches downfield, and who throws a prettier deep ball than #12? Not many.
He also was a very reliable target on underneath routes, showing crisp route running and solid hands while consistently trying to move the chains.
He strikes me as a guy you’d like to have on the field for those “gotta have it” down-and-distance moments.
No one will confuse him for Davante with his get-off, but he’s got above average footwork and some crafty moves to keep defenders from sitting on his routes.
Watkins shows a willingness to fight for the ball in contested catch situations, showing an alpa-type attitude that anything in his radius is his ball. A stocky guy who’s not afraid to mix it up with defensive back’s at the catch point.
While his lengthy injury history has sapped him of some speed, he does offer some yards-after-catch ability, and actively looks to get to the edge and turn up field.
Something that didn’t show up on tape is the intangible “veteran presence”. Yes, Randall Cobb is still around as the elder statesmen, but a guy like Watkins who’s been through the NFL ringer can always add some proprietary knowledge to the mix. I’m also excited to see if Watkins and Amari Rodgers gel by virtue of their Clemson connection.
Watkins probably isn’t as washed as he appeared last season in Baltimore, and probably isn’t the same difference maker he was in Kansas City, like most things the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Here are a couple of reasons why Watkins could have a career resurgence in Green Bay:
- He just turned 29 years old two days ago.
- He’s playing with a much better passing QB in Aaron Rodgers than he had last season in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson.
- He’s playing in an offense that doesn’t air it out quite as much as Kansas City, but there are many more targets available.
But, as we know, all is not rosy with Watkins and there is a reason he is settling for one year deal’s while still on the right side of 30…
Sammy Watkins injury history reads like a steamy love letter to an orthopedic surgeon.
Left foot surgically repaired twice. Right foot has been seriously injured once. Numerous soft tissue injuries in recent years. Shoulder sprains. Two concussions.
The word is that Packers team doc Pat McKenzie had to increase his iCloud storage just to receive all the medicals on Watkins.
All joking aside, Watkins reportedly considered retirement before signing with the Packers and acknowledged that his body has betrayed him a bit. He’s played a full slate of games only once in his 8 year NFL career.
Not only have Watkins injuries forced him to miss time, but they’ve changed his style of play and eroded some of his physical gifts.
In reviewing video of Watkins, he seems to avoid contact more than others with the ball in his hands and seems somewhat unwilling to fight for extra yards. A little self-preservation is smart, but Watkins sometimes looks like he’s just playing not to get hurt.
The Packers have had many wide receivers over the years who’ve made the most of modest timed speed, but Sammy Watkins is definitely not the 4.43 40 time player that he once was.
He still has enough straight-line speed to get deep, but his short area burst when receiving underneath passes is almost non-existent. It pains me to say, but it was almost reminiscent of Packers-era Jimmy Graham snagging a ball and falling forward for whatever meager yardage he could get.
The short of it is, you can all but guarantee that Watkins will not be available for a full slate of games, and when he is on the field you can expect a mixed bag of highlight plays paired with some disappearing acts.
You, I, and the Packers front office are all well aware of this, and I fully expect that if Watkins makes the team, he will be on a snap count to try and combat the aforementioned issues.
I think deploying Watkins as a “sixth man” makes a lot of sense. Getting him on the field when the timing is right, limiting his exposure and hopefully preserving him for a deep post-season run when he can do some damage.
Watkins is essentially a number 3 receiver on a team currently filled with number 3 receivers. He’s an asset if he’s healthy but not a significant difference maker. The key will be hopefully keeping him fresh and deploying him when he can be most impactful.
Obviously there’s a good amount of time between now and week one but the range of outcomes for Watkins could be anywhere from featured outside receiver to training camp cut based on how the rest of receiver group (read: rookies) performs.
At minimum it appears the efficacy of the offense will once against rest on Aaron Rodgers right arm and the continued creativity of Matt LaFleur.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.