6 WRs You Should Draft Ahead of Sammy Watkins

Jul 13, 2016
6 WRs You Should Draft Ahead of Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins is a tantalizing talent, coming off a season of 60 receptions, 1,047 yards, and nine touchdowns in 13 games ... but he’s being drafted too high in 2016. The Bills top wideout is the 12th receiver off the board in average draft position, being selected at the 2/3 turn in 12-team leagues. So, he is being drafted to be a low-end WR1 in 2016, and there are just simply better options that come with far less risk.

Let’s begin first with the blemishes and concerns with Watkins entering 2016 fantasy draft season.

Injury Concerns

Watkins broke his foot this offseason, requiring a screw to be inserted. The Bills say they’re hopeful he’ll be ready for training camp, but feet and wide receivers are always stomach-churning situations for fantasy owners (see Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman, and Julio Jones in years past). The former fourth overall pick has a tricky timetable for return, too, as the injury is similar to Bryant's and Edelman’s injuries. That’s because the foot is an area with poor blood supply, which slows rehabilitation and creates the risk of re-injury if rushed.

Watkins posted a picture of him sprinting on Instagram July 8th, creating some optimism that he could be ready for training camp, but running in a straight line is much different than route-running. Watkins himself said a few weeks ago he wasn’t sure he’d be ready for training camp.

Add this to a list of injuries in just two NFL seasons that also included rib, hip, ankle and calf injuries, and the risk of injury is a legitimate concern for fantasy drafters who will have to spend a late 2nd- or early 3rd-round pick on Watkins.

Touchdown Regression

Yes, Watkins scored nine touchdowns last year, but is it something that has a good chance to be repeated? Savvy fantasy owners know touchdown production from year to year is the toughest to project. With Watkins, there are signs those nine touchdowns might be tough to repeat.

First, let’s look at how many times the team leader in receiving touchdowns have found the endzone under a Rex Ryan-coached team:

Leading WR in TDs with Rex Ryan as Head Coach
Player Year TDs
Sammy Watkins 2015 9
Eric Decker 2014 5
Jeremy Kerley 2013 3
Stephen Hill 2012 3
Santonio Holmes/Plaxico Burress 2011 8
Braylon Edwards 2010 7
Braylon Edwards 2009 4

Watkins’ nine touchdowns were well above the average of five touchdowns per season for Rex Ryan’s leading receiver. It can’t even be blamed on one system either, as Ryan had multiple offensive coordinators in New York.

Secondly, Watkins' red zone targets in 2015 under Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman create more doubt that nine touchdowns could be repeated. Watkins had only seven red zone targets in 2015, ranking 130th in the NFL. Teammate Robert Woods had the same miserable amount.

Even players on terrible passing offenses were targeted in the red zone much more frequently than Watkins, like Browns wideout Brian Hartline (13) and Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley (17). Only two of Watkins’ nine touchdowns came in the red zone, meaning he will likely need a big increase in red zone targets in 2016 or a repeat of long touchdowns, and I don’t know which one is more unlikely. However, both are hard to invest in at the end of the 2nd round.

Inability to Beat Shutdown Corners Consistently

Fantasy football is a week-to-week game. Consistency is gold. With passing at an all-time high and wide receivers historically strong entering 2016, there are enough options to make Watkins’ history of getting shut down concerning, given his price tag.

In 2015, it started Week 1 against Colts cornerback Vontae Davis. Watkins finished that game with zero receptions on three targets. I watched this game live from the stadium press box. Watkins could not shake Davis.

In four games against teams with Darrelle Revis (two in 2014 as a Patriot, two in 2015 as a Jet), Watkins has averaged 5.8-62.3-0.25, and that, according to Pro Football Focus, includes six receptions for 56 yards in a Week 17 game last year that were caught with Revis covering somebody else. There was also a 3-11-0 game against Joe Haden in 2014 (Haden snagged an interception in that game, too), a 3-39-0 game against Malcolm Butler, and 1-39-0 and 3-32-0 games against Brent Grimes.

Those are enough examples to have concern when you are drafting a player as high up as Watkins. Only a select few receivers are matchup-proof, but I’d argue that so ealy in the draft, you want to avoid players that aren't able to overcome tough matchups. Did I also mention Watkins gets Revis, Haden, and four other top-10 passing defenses in terms of yards per attempt in 2016?

Sustainable Yards Per Reception?

Watkins averaged 17.5 yards per reception last year during a season where he was on a 16-game pace of 117 targets. Since 2012, only five receivers averaged more than 17 yards per reception with 115 or more targets. What happened the following year?

WRs with 17.0+ Yds/Rec and 115+ Targets (Since 2012)
Season Y Catch Rate Y+1 Catch Rate
Vincent Jackson 2012 19.2 15.7
Josh Gordon 2013 18.9 12.6
Calvin Johnson 2013 17.8 15.2
Allen Robinson 2015 17.5 ?
Torrey Smith 2013 17.4 15.7

Yards per reception is never a good indicator of fantasy success from year to year. The above receivers saw their yards per reception drop by an average of 3.5.

That would put Watkins at about 14.0 yards per reception for 2016, hypothetically, after a 16-game pace of 1,289 yards in 2015 (1,047 yards in 13 games). So in order for Watkins to match that yardage pace in 2016 (which is what you are investing in with a 2nd-round pick), Watkins would need 92 receptions.

Given a career catch rate of 56% in Buffalo, Watkins would project to needing about 164 targets to reach those 92 receptions needed to match last season’s output, given a likely steep drop-off in yards per reception. The record for targets under a Rex Ryan coached team is 115. Again, Watkins was on-pace for 117 last year.

Even if you project Watkins for 16.0 yards per catch in 2016 (a very aggressive figure), he would need 144 targets at his 56% career catch rate to match last year’s yardage pace. It’s asking a lot.

WRs To Draft Before Watkins Currently After Watkins in ADP

T.Y. Hilton (4.02 ADP10, 3.08 ADP12)

I outlined the reasons Hilton should bounce back into the WR1 conversation in a previous article. With Luck in 2014, Hilton posted a season of 82-1345-7, a top-10 fantasy season among receivers. Hilton gets Luck back in 2016 and will be in a much more pass happy offense compared to Watkins and the Bills. Hilton’s 17 red zone targets, even without Luck for nine games in 2015, also squashed Watkins’ seven.

Keenan Allen (3.09 ADP10, 3.05 ADP12)

Allen was on a torrid 134-1450-8 pace in 2015 before missing half the season with a kidney injury. Allen is back now and still remains the unquestioned top target for the Chargers. His 10.82 yards per reception from last year’s monstrous first half is also more than sustainable, if not capable of improvement. Allen also had one more red zone target in half a season than Watkins had in an entire season a year ago.

Brandin Cooks (3.07 ADP10, 3.03 ADP12)

If you had to bet, which team’s top wide receiver would you pick to finish with more touchdowns: the Saints or the Bills? Cooks also proved he can stay healthy in his sophomore season playing 16 games. Cooks finished as the #13 WR in PPR last year after posting a season of 84-1138-9. Like the previous two choices above, he’s also in a pass-first offense, unlike Watkins. His targets will be there from a very efficient quarterback in Drew Brees.

Randall Cobb (5.01 ADP10, 4.05 ADP12)

Cobb was banged up in 2015 and really struggled en route to a season of 79-829-6 without Jordy Nelson in the Packers offense. With Nelson back and Aaron Rodgers still being Aaron Rodgers, Cobb could easily return to a season similar to his 2014 campaign of 91-1287-12. That season Cobb was top-5 in the NFL with 27 red zone targets, even with Nelson getting 32 of his own. Again, give me a weapon in what has been one of the best passing offenses in the league over the past five years over one in a run-first offense.

Demaryius Thomas (3.10 ADP10, 3.06 ADP12)

The fading of Thomas in 2016 drafts has gone too far after a season of 105-1304-6. Thomas put up that kind of season with atrocious quarterback play, as the Broncos ranked 23rd in yards per pass attempt and 31st in passer rating (76.3). For reference, Mark Sanchez has posted a passer rating in the 80s each of the past two years. I would argue this previously bonafide fantasy receiving stud is more likely to have improved quarterback play from what he had a year ago, and even if Denver finds itself trailing in more games in 2016, that will lead to more volume for Thomas in the passing game.

Amari Cooper (3.05 ADP10, 3.01 ADP12)

72-1070-6? Not bad for the first receiver drafted in 2015 -- and better than Watkins’ rookie season (65-982-6). Cooper may have had to cede red zone targets to Michael Crabtree last year (15 for Crabtree, 8 for Cooper), but that could change with his development. For any rookie receiver to post 1,000+ yards is impressive, considering it’s usually not until their second season when they break out. This option takes more of a leap of faith than the others above, but he’s still in an offense with a better outlook in the passing game with the Raiders and Derek Carr at quarterback.

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