You're Better Off Letting Somebody Else Draft Sammy Watkins in 2015
Sammy Watkins burst onto the NFL scene as part of the historically great 2014 rookie class of wide receivers. The fantasy football world was fairly high on him. According to MyFantasyLeague's average draft position (ADP) data, he was drafted as the top rookie wideout off the board, 30th receiver overall, in redraft leagues. His owners' investments paid off, as he finished 25th in PPR scoring at the position.
Drafters seem to be forecasting a huge jump in production from him this year because his current ADP has him going as the 18th receiver off the board.
To put it bluntly, this is insanity. Yes, Watkins may very well develop nicely as a player, and be more talented going into his sophomore year, but the situation in Buffalo this year is absolutely terrible for wide receivers from a fantasy football perspective. There are very few wide receivers in the league I would consider drafting that highly if they were in the Bills' offense, and Watkins is not one of them.
How bad is it?
This offseason, the Bills brought on former 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman to run their offense. This already spells trouble for Bills receivers.
In his four years as the offensive coordinator, the highest a 49ers receiver ever finished in PPR scoring was 16th. The average finish for their top wideout was 22nd. Unless you believe Sammy Watkins to be significantly more efficient than Anquan Boldin (Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures how many expected points a player adds to his team's score, says he is not; Boldin had a higher Reception NEP per target in both 2013 and 2014 than Watkins did in 2014), then by taking Sammy Watkins as the 18th receiver you're drafting him at his ceiling.
The best case scenario is that you're getting out the same value you put in.
A big factor in this is Greg Roman's play calling tendencies. Here are Greg Roman's play calling numbers from his tenure in San Francisco, and Buffalo's 2014 numbers for reference.
|Year (team)||Run Plays||Pass Plays||Pass/Run Ratio|
2014 was the only season that Roman called more pass plays than run plays. And even in this unusually pass-happy season, San Francisco ran only 87% as many pass plays as Buffalo did, 78 fewer in total.
Even if Buffalo's offensive personnel entering 2015 was the same as they had in 2014, it would stand to believe that Watkins' target numbers would likely fall. Compounding the problem, however, is the additions the Bills have made to the offense.
The only player not returning that saw 50-plus targets last year is Scott Chandler. They've also lost C.J. Spiller who saw 22 targets. The new additions in Buffalo include Lesean McCoy, Charles Clay and Percy Harvin.
McCoy will more than make up for Spiller's targets in the passing game. McCoy has had a higher Reception NEP per target than Spiller in three of the last five seasons and has the higher career number as well, at 0.30 versus Spiller's 0.24. McCoy has also averaged 50 receptions per season over his career.
The replacement of Scott Chandler with Charles Clay is an interesting one. While Chandler has been more efficient than Clay according to our metrics -- with 2013 and 2014 Reception NEP per target numbers of 0.68 and 0.70 to Clay's 0.65 and 0.50 -- Clay has seen more targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns over that span.
Whatever the numbers say, the Bills clearly have faith in Clay. His contract in Buffalo includes 24.5 million dollars in guaranteed money, the highest of any tight end in the league, according to Spotrac. He will also be the fourth-highest paid tight end in the league by per-season average.
That's not exactly a contract you give to someone that you don't see playing a big role in your offense.
The Percy Harvin addition is a bit of a wildcard. It's hard to know what to make of Harvin, and there are vastly differing opinions on him floating around.
If there's anything to be said for Harvin it's that the league hasn't given up on him. Despite bouncing between three teams over the last three seasons and being hampered by injuries Harvin has seen 7.1 targets per game, the same amount he saw over his first three years in Minnesota.
Even in a small role, Harvin will see a fair number of targets, and when combined with the McCoy and Clay additions, there are a lot of mouths to feed in the Buffalo offense.
In case the lack of opportunity isn't enough to sour you on Watkins, he's also going to have to deal with worse quarterback play than he did in 2014.
Kyle Orton took over the Bills starting quarterback job in their fifth game last year and played serviceable -- if not good -- football. He had a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.04, good for 23rd out of the 37 quarterbacks with 200 or more drop backs.
Cassel hasn't posted a Passing NEP per drop back of at least 0.04 since 2010, and Manuel has never even had a positive number, with a 0.00 in four games in 2014 and a -0.14 in 2013.
Taylor has never started a game at quarterback in the NFL, but our own Joe Redemann took a good look at why that scenario wouldn't work out well for the Bills.
Who ends up under center for the Bills is still up in the air, but with Cassel, the only one who's ever shown himself an adequate NFL passer, allegedly looking the worst of the group in mini-camp, Buffalo projects to have absolutely horrible quarterback play in any scenario.
This article isn't intended as a knock on Sammy Watkins as a football player. He had a solid 2014 and looks to have a promising career in front of him. Fantasy football, though, is about so much more than talent.
It would take a truly generational talent to justify going off the board as the 18th receiver while part of this offense, and even then I'm not sure it would be good value. With fewer targets to go around, more mouths to feed, and a worse quarterback behind these targets, it just makes absolutely no sense to be drafting Sammy Watkins ahead of where he finished last year. You'll be saving yourself a pick if you let one of your leaguemates to be the one to reach for him.