What to expect from Sammy Watkins in his rookie season


(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Sammy Watkins is already giving Buffalo Bills fans hope.

It’s only taken a few spectacular, one-handed grabs to make Bills fans momentarily forget about all things Jon Bon Jovi related. It’s at this point in the early stages of the NFL preseason when player stocks become inflated and expectations reach unrealistically high levels.

As impressive as Watkins is, it is important to take a step back and consider recent history when projecting his Year 1 production. Only 12 receivers have posted 1,000-yard rookie seasons since the merger, and only five grabbed double-figure touchdowns.

Watkins is often compared to Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith due to his ability to catch contested passes in tight coverage and gain yards after the catch by dodging defenders. Smith, who played for Maryland before being drafted in 2011, didn’t have nearly the same amount of name recognition or buzz in college and wasn’t drafted until the end of the second round. But he did post a strong rookie season, finishing with 841 yards and seven touchdowns on 50 receptions. The comparison also makes sense based on their final college seasons.

Smith’s rookie season is also a fair comparison based on what other wide receivers drafted in a similar range have produced. Since the merger, 15 receivers have been drafted top-12 overall, including stars such as Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Michael Irvin. Here’s how those players fared in their rookie seasons.

Combining those 15 seasons, we get an average of 54.6 receptions, 828 yards and 6.2 touchdowns, which is very close to what Fantasy Football Today is projecting (62/822/4). But in comparing wide receivers on different teams there is one massive variable — quarterback play.

It’s difficult to gauge Bills rookie EJ Manuel after only 10 games. Manuel finished with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 77.7. which ranked 29th in the league.

Compared to the quarterbacks the other top-12 receivers had in their rookie years, Manuel’s 77.7 rating doesn’t look all that bad, and it actually falls right in the middle of the pack.

The good news for Buffalo is that because Manuel is a rookie, there’s a fair chance he’d improve in Year 2, regardless of Watkins. Adding a potential superstar receiver should make his job a lot easier, even with the departure of 2013 leading wide receiver Steve Johnson.

No, Randy Moss shouldn’t worry about Watkins approaching his ridiculous rookie stats (69/1,313/17 TDs), but Watkins will improve the Bills’ passing game considerably, and should wind up being the best receiver in the AFC East by the end of the season.

Thomas Johnson is a reporter.
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