Fantasy Football: Draft Sammy Watkins at His Current Price While You Still Can
Entering the 2016 season, it's pretty clear that the preferred draft position is in the top three. There's never a sure thing, but Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones certainly feel pretty close to it.
While landing in the top three will net you one of these stud receivers, there's a receiver who is readily available come the end of the second and early third rounds who could finish 2016 right on the heels of the big three.
Sammy Watkins finished 2015 as a weekly top performer down the stretch, but offseason foot surgery sent him tumbling down the preseason ranks. Get ready to take advantage of that.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Watkins is currently being drafted in the mid-to-late third round in both standard and PPR scoring leagues. Watkins' average draft position (ADP) has been slowly climbing since positive reports on his recovery have come out, but in both scoring formats, he remains the 18th receiver off the board, behind the likes of Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Demaryius Thomas, Kelvin Benjamin, and Jarvis Landry.
He should be going higher.
A Blazing Finish to 2015
Despite playing in only 13 games last season, Watkins finished as WR20 in PPR leagues and WR16 in standard scoring leagues. Much of this production came following the Buffalo Bills' Week 8 bye.
Watkins missed three games in the first half of the season, but from Week 9 on, he played in every game and ranked fourth overall in fantasy points among wide receivers, behind only Brown, Doug Baldwin, and Brandon Marshall. He averaged 14.7 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues and produced four top-10 scoring performances during that stretch.
This performance came after Watkins questioned his role in the team's offense.
Prior to the Bills' bye week, Watkins was criminally underused, averaging only 4.5 targets per game. But following the bye week, Watkins averaged 8.7 looks per game, including four games in which he saw 10-plus targets.
As pointed out by Jim Sannes in his AFC East preview, Watkins saw 32.37 percent of the Bills' targets from Week 9 until the end of the season.
Overall, though, Watkins saw only 96 targets on the season, 35th among receivers, but he sure made the most of them.
By almost every efficiency measure, Watkins was one of the best receivers in the league in 2015.
Here at numberFire, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric quantifies a player's impact based on historical expectation. You can read more about it in the glossary.
Of the 36 receivers with more than 60 receptions last year -- Watkins had 60 -- Watkins ranked first in Reception NEP per target (1.05). For some context, here is how Watkins stacks up with the consensus top three picks in 2016.
|Receiver||Targets||Reception NEP per target|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||158||0.96|
Additionally, Watkins' fantasy points per snap numbers were equally impressive.
Of the 63 receivers who averaged 50 snaps a game and played in at least eight games, Watkins' 22 points per 100 snaps ranked fourth behind only Jones, Brown, and Allen Robinson, according to FantasyData.com.
By the end of 2015, Watkins had set career highs in receptions, yards, and 100-yard games.
Ok, so you get it. Watkins was pretty darn good last year. Why isn't he being drafted higher? A couple of reasons.
First, he underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot in May. This has added to his reputation as being "injury-prone," as he did miss three games in 2015 due to an ankle injury.
However, after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, Watkins passed his physical on August 8 and has since resumed practicing.
Per beat writer reports, including this report from the Buffalo News, Watkins has picked up right where he left off last year and is dominating practices.
"He drew big applause from the crowd for a one-handed catch during individual drills that he made look absurdly easy, then kept it up in the team portion with a touchdown catch on a play-action pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor."
And in this video from Bills practice, Watkins shows cutting is no problem.
The other main issue is that Watkins plays for Rex Ryan, a coach well-known for his intentions to have a run-first offense. In 2015, the Bills averaged 29.1 passing attempts per game, ranking them 31st in the league. Yes, second to last. Volume is certainly another question mark for Watkins.
Even if he had played all 16 games last year, he was only on pace for 118 targets, which would have ranked him 25th in the league.
But despite those limited opportunities, Watkins showed the potential to be a top end fantasy producer in a run-first offense, and he is clearly the Bills' primary option with Robert Woods and Greg Salas serving as the team's second and third receivers.
Finally, entering 2016, we project the Bills' defense to rank just 18th in the league based on our advanced metrics, and the team has already been hit with injuries or suspensions to Shaq Lawson, Manny Lawson, IK Enemkpali, and Marcell Dareus. If the defense slips, there may be more situations where the Bills are forced to pass, leading to more opportunity for Watkins.
For the season, we project Watkins for 68.88 receptions, 1,080.61 yards, and 9.2 touchdowns, which places him 14th in our wide receiver rankings.
With Watkins' current ADP in the mid-third round, consider grabbing him there a steal. While a number of the receivers he's currently going behind have WR1 upside, few, if any, have the top-five potential that Watkins flashed down the stretch in 2015.
If you're concerned with Watkins' injury status, look at the positive reports out of Bills camp. And if you're concerned with Watkins and the Bills' low-volume passing game, look to Watkins' target share and 2015 production on limited opportunities.
Either way, scooping up Watkins at the end of the second or early third round provides you the potential to roster a second top-five fantasy receiver if you're lucky enough to land a top-three draft slot.