The Buffalo Bills had high hopes for the rookies selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, but despite the aggressive moves and picks with “name power,” the class as a whole underachieved. However, a handful of players made a big impact for the team, while others flashed potential that’s promising for the future. Here at BillsMafia.com, we’ll do an individual breakdown of every player acquired during the draft.
Round One, Pick No. 4
WR Sammy Watkins
Bills’ General Manager Doug Whaley made a bold move, sending the team’s 2014 and 2015 first-round picks and the 2015 fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the No. 4 overall pick. The team acquired Sammy Watkins, an electric playmaking wide receiver widely viewed as an elite talent. The rationale behind the move was that Watkins would be elite offensive weapon that the Bills have lacked, while forming a dynamic duo with second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
While Watkins has already established himself as a talented and versatile weapon, nagging injuries and poor quarterback play plagued his rookie campaign. Watkins finished the season with 65 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that are pretty respectable for a rookie wideout in years past. However, the 2014 rookie wide receiver class is shaping up to be one of the best in years, if not ever. 10 rookie wideouts caught at least 44 passes, while twelve gained at least 500 receiving yards and nine scored at least five touchdowns.
The two receivers taken immediately after Watkins, Mike Evans (68 receptions, 1,051 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Odell Beckham Jr. (91 receptions, 1,305 yards, 12 touchdowns) have dwarfed Sammy’s production, leading to many fans and analysts further questioning the rationale behind Whaley’s decision to pull the trigger on the trade.
Regardless of how Sammy’s career pans out, his production will always be compared to the value that the Bills gave up to acquire him. So, for the sake of this article we’ll look at what he did on the field for the Bills’ offense this season.
It only took Watkins two games to put up his first 100-yard performance of his career, catching eight passes for 117 yards in the home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Prior to the draft, the primary issue scouts had with Watkins was his inconsistent route running, as he was used on screens and slants for the majority of his time with Clemson. He proved that notion to be false, shaking defenders with impressive agility and finding the soft spots against zone coverages.
Watkins is electric with the ball in his hands, using his 4.37 speed to separate from defenders and create yards-after-the-catch, as shown in the following clip. He catches a quick slant and is able to take it to the endzone for first touchdown of the season.
Most rookie wideouts have a bad habit of letting the ball get into their body, rather than attacking or plucking the ball at the catch point. Watkins showed off his strong hands early in the season, making an incredible catch, using his fingertips to secure a pass against the Detroit Lions.
His concentration and reliable hands are put on display again in the same game, as he’s able to adjust his body and bring in an errant Kyle Orton pass.
On vertical routes, Sammy showed the ability to shift into an extra gear to pull away from cornerbacks in man coverage. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Watkins releases on a go route, using his hands to slap away the cornerback’s arms before pulling away and hauling in a 28-yard touchdown.
He does this again against the Jets, using a nifty double move that causes his defender to turn his hips in the wrong direction, allowing Watkins to be off to the races. If it wasn’t for a premature celebration, the play would’ve resulted in six points.
Watkins had four games with over 100 receiving yards, and finished the year with 925 yards and six scores, while averaging 15.1 yards-per-catch, which was fourth-best among rookies.
While Watkins ultimately didn’t help the Bills achieve their stated goal of making the playoffs, he established himself as a talented player that opposing defenses would gameplan for. Looking at his rookie season on the surface, in terms of statistical production, he didn’t live up to the hype. However, on a game-by-game basis, Watkins made plays that made you say “wow.” Plays that only a handful of wideouts in the National Football League can make, and the 21-year old proved that he’ll be an extremely valuable player for the franchise going forward.