Should You Buy or Sell Sammy Watkins in Fantasy Football?

Sammy Watkins has started to live up to his draft spot, but can that be expected to continue?

The Buffalo Bills were pretty certain in what they were getting with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and they liked it so much that they sent their 2014 first-round pick, along with their 2015 first-round pick and fourth-round pick, to the Cleveland Browns in order to trade up and select the 6'1", 211-pound pass-catcher.

He struggled through a back injury in the preseason after tweaking it during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but was able to make his first real impact in Buffalo's Week 2 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, where Watkins caught 8 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

His other two games to date, though, were worrisome. In Week 1 and Week 3, Watkins combined for 5 receptions and 50 yards without seeing the end zone. He was targeted 12 times in those two contests, so he caught only 41.7% of his targets.

With vastly different results, Watkins could be considered either a buy-low candidate or a sell-high player, but what is the right move for you?

The Matchup Game

Watkins, so far, has faced the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, and San Diego Chargers. All three are above-average pass defenses, according to our metrics.

If you're new to numberFire, Net Expected Points (NEP) is our home-brewed metric that quantifies production in terms of how well it adds to the likelihood of scoring points, making a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-8 to enter the red zone much more valuable than a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-20 inside a team's own territory, for instance.

When applied to a team, we can adjust this for strength of schedule and break things down on a per-play basis to ensure things aren't skewed by volume. So, when looking at the Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play of the Bears, Dolphins, and Chargers, we can see how difficult it is to make positive plays against them.

Through three weeks, Chicago ranks 6th, Miami ranks 8th, and San Diego ranks 15th. While those are influenced by the Bills, who rank 15th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play (the offensive metric), the current team totals are weighted for opponent strength. So, in turn, Watkins has faced two top-eight defenses and another unit that is currently inside the top half of the league.

Watkins' metrics are surprisingly good considering his matchups.

Inside the Numbers

Currently, Watkins is the second-best rookie receiver, behind Kelvin Benjamin, according to Reception NEP.

Benjamin's Reception NEP is 23.04, and Watkins' is 17.22. Benjamin is the seventh-best receiver according to NEP, and Watkins is 17th in the league.

If you're wondering, Allen Hurns (16.76) ranks 18th overall, Brandin Cooks (12.66) ranks 38th, and Jordan Matthews (11.54) ranks 41st.

On a per-target basis, Watkins is 16th, owning a Reception NEP per target of 0.75. Despite playing some pretty stingy pass defenses, Watkins' Reception NEP numbers (which aren't adjusted for schedule strength) stacks up well against veteran receivers and youngsters alike.

So overall, Watkins has produced some really good numbers despite playing some solid pass defenses. Better yet, the schedule will ease up soon - but not too soon.

The Road Ahead

If you're looking to buy low, now may not be the time. The Bills have a tough schedule over the next four games, and Watkins might have trouble producing useful fantasy stats in the immediate future, which should lower his value and make him a bit of an afterthought in trades.

Here are the next four opponents for the Bills and their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play scores and ranks through Week 3.

TeamWeekAdj. D PENP/PlayLeague Rank
New England6-0.181

Struggles for Watkins can be expected in the immediate future, which will lower his stock, and owners should be willing to part ways with him without too much thought. But if you're intrigued by Watkins and want to make a deal to acquire him, you won't want to wait past Week 7. The Bills schedule gets pretty receiver-friendly in time for the push to the playoffs.

Here are the opponents for the Bills from Week 8 to Week 17.

TeamWeekAdj. D PENP/PlayLeague Rank
New York (A)80.0610
Kansas City100.1519
New York (A)120.0610
Green Bay150.1520
New England17-0.181

The best news of all is that he has a dreamy matchup against the Oakland Raiders in Week 16, which is the nearly-universal fantasy championship week. Just as important, Watkins avoids his second nightmare matchup against Darrelle Revis, as the Bills finish the season against the Patriots in Week 17. Your fantasy championship should be determined by then. Hopefully it is, anyway.

But Watkins gets to face some pretty generous defenses along the way, and also has the "luxury" of a tough stretch from Week 4 to Week 7, which can help reduce his price. Just beware: his metrics are good despite playing some legitimate pass defenses, and if he's as good as the Bills think he is, then he has the chance to produce even against some tough opponents.

He could translate those into better fantasy numbers soon, but he currently ranks just 35th in fantasy points in half-point-per-reception leagues. Is there reason to believe his analytics can result in fantasy points before year's end?

It looks like it.

Bullish on the Bill

Watkins' play has been more impressive in the metrics than in actual fantasy output, which is good news if you're trying to make a trade for him but bad news if you were trying to rely on him or hoping to sell him at a high price after a hot start.

However, even though he had two poor games based on raw production, he's still receiving a lot of attention in the Buffalo offense, relative to his teammates.

Here's how Watkins' usage stacks up to the rest of the receiving threats on the Bills who have seen more than two targets. These numbers come from the team's 92 drop backs and 55 completed passes.

PlayerTar.Tar. % of Drop BacksTar. % of CompletionsRec.Rec. % of Completions
Sammy Watkins230.250.42130.24
Robert Woods170.180.3180.15
Fred Jackson170.180.31130.24
Mike Williams100.110.1850.09
Scott Chandler80.090.1570.13
C.J. Spiller70.080.1370.13

Watkins is targeted on one-fourth of all of E.J. Manuel's drop backs. He also has accounted for basically the same percentage of the Bills' receptions (24%).

I could have approached these numbers from various angles, but it's pretty telling that 42% of Manuel's completions came as a result of passes intended for Watkins. Sure, that's partially because Watkins has seen more targets than other Bills, but volume matters in fantasy football, and most of Manuel's successes are going toward Watkins in the early part of the season.

He's the obvious top option in Buffalo, which isn't a surprise, but it's reassuring to see it in the numbers despite his limitations from his preseason injury and some tough early-season matchups.

Buy, Sell, or Hold?

If you have Watkins rostered and don't think he's going to make a difference down the stretch when his schedule eases up, then you better try to get rid of him now for what you can before he goes through a daunting stretch over the next four games. If you're looking to buy, then you can try it now or hope that he gets stymied in the next four games, reducing his price even more if he drops from his current rank as the 35th-best fantasy receiver.

If you have him rostered still, the usage percentages, production potential, and playoff-friendly schedule are enough to hold onto Watkins, as young receivers tend to hit their strides after a few games in the league. Watkins could be an ideal target for a mid-season trade who could pay off big during the playoff stretch, and his asking price may not be much if he's kept in check in the next few games.