Is Sammy Watkins a Sell-High Candidate in Fantasy Football?
Fresh off of his 9-catch, 122-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the Vikings on Sunday, Sammy Watkins is currently ranked as the 12th-best wide receiver in PPR leagues.
Is this the time for us to sell him high, or should we put on some Lorde and awkwardly dance in celebration at our newly anointed high-end WR2’s coming out party?
A Look At The Numbers
Through seven games, Watkins has been productive for fantasy owners, but also very inconsistent. He's had three games with seven or more receptions and four games with four or fewer. He's had three 85-plus yard games, and four games with now more than 31.
Still, he’s tied for 11th in targets (61), 14th in receptions (35), 20th in receiving yards (433), and tied for 10th in receiving touchdowns (4).
Our advanced metrics have him ranked favorably as well. Sammy is currently 11th overall in terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), and 21st overall in terms of Reception NEP per target, putting him somewhere in that WR2 range for fantasy.
The New Bills Offense
Things seem to be looking up for Sammy as well. Since Kyle Orton has taken over as the starting quarterback for the Bills, Sammy has 18 catches, 236 yards, and 2 touchdowns. This was over a span of three games, including his abysmal two-catchperformance in Week 6 while getting shadowed by Darrelle Revis. Before that, over a span of four games with E.J. Manuel, Watkins had 17 catches, 197 yards, and 2 scores. It appears the changing of the guard has been beneficial to Sammy’s fantasy production.
Orton also seems to have been slightly more effective from a non-fantasy perspective. Among 34 passers with more than 100 drop backs this year, Manuel ranked 30th while Orton ranks 28th in terms of Passing NEP per attempt. While the difference here is pretty negligible, the only importance is each quarterback’s impact on Sammy – so let’s go back to that.
Orton is averaging 41 total passing attempts per game. Manuel averaged 33 attempts per game. That’s eight more passes per game that could go to Sammy’s hands. Under Orton so far, Sammy is indeed averaging two targets more per game.
In four games, Manuel turned 31 targets to Watkins into a 54.8% completion percentage and 6.4 yards per attempt. In three games, Orton turned 29 targets into a 62% completion percentage and 8.1 yards per attempt. The advanced metrics seem to back this up.
After Manuel's final start in Week 4, Sammy's Reception NEP was at 21.89, his Target NEP was 9.49, and his catch rate was 53.13%. In three weeks with Orton, his Reception NEP has more than doubled to 43.94, his target NEP is up to 15.65, and his catch rate has increased by 4.25% to 57.38%.
Watkins is clearly the centerpiece of this passing offense, leading the Bills in targets with 61. Behind him is Robert Woods with 48 and the now-sidelined Fred Jackson with 42. After that, it's Scott Chandler with 34, and then no one comes close. Without Fred Jackson for four weeks and C.J. Spiller for the year, the Bills are going to need to get the ball in Sammy’s hands more than ever.
Strength of Schedule
Let's take a look at the kind of schedule Sammy has faced so far, by looking at the opposition's Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play scores and ranks.
|Team||Week||Adj. Def Pass NEP/Play||Rank|
Watkins has had quite the rough schedule in his first seven weeks as a pro. He's faced three teams in the top five, and five in the top 10. San Diego was the only team with a below-average pass defense when you analyze it on a per drop back basis. Still, in spite of this, he's managed to put up some gaudy numbers.
Let's look at his schedule going forward.
|Team||Week||Adj. Def Pass NEP/Play||Rank|
|New York Jets||8||0.13||21|
|New York Jets||12||0.13||21|
Things start to get better right off the bat against the Jets' 11th-worst pass defense. After that we get to his bye, and then two tough passing defenses in Kansas City and Miami. From then on it's smooth sailing.
He faces the Jets again, then the 14th worst pass defense in the Browns. In Weeks 14 and 15 he goes up against two slightly above average pass defenses in the Broncos and Packers, and then finally one of the worst pass defenses in the league in Week 16 (hopefully your league championship). Most fantasy owners will avoid New England in Week 17, as that should be after your championship has already decided.
Don't Sell Sammy
This is a special player in a good situation. He has a new quarterback who is playing better and getting him the ball more often and effectively than his predecessor. Two of the team’s top offensive pieces will be missing extended time. It’s clear the team is making an effort to get him the ball. His schedule gets a lot easier from here on. He has an excellent championship week matchup. And he's just flat out been playing very well.
Don't sell Watkins.