3 Reasons to Like Sammy Watkins In 2019
The most recent podcast from our friends over at Dynasty League Football contains a long discussion about how over-valued Sammy Watkins has become in dynasty leagues. In our own rankings, John Paulsen puts Watkins 11 spots below the concensus ranking. Are they both right? Has the love for Watkins gone too far?
First off, these criticisms are about price. Let me return to that issue at the end. For now, let me try to convince you that Sammy Watkins is a player that you'd want to have on your team. Here are three reasons to like him in 2019.
You Want a Piece of the Chiefs Offense
The Kansas City Chiefs offense was awesome in 2018. Patrick Mahomes was the league's MVP. The Chiefs averaged over 35 points per game—over two points more than the next best offenses, the Rams and Saints. They put up the third highest passing yards per game and had incredible efficiency at scoring touchdowns.
For 2019, let's start with the bad news: Mahomes and the entire Chiefs offense will likely regress. Red Zone efficiency is actually negatively correlated year-to-year, so there is every reason to expect the Chiefs to score fewer points. And thanks to their winning ways last season, the Chiefs have one of the NFL's hardest schedules in 2019.
Despite the coming regression, though, the experts in Vegas still have the Chiefs with the second-highest expected win total in 2019, tied with the Saints and Rams, behind only the Patriots, with their soft schedule. And the Chiefs do not have a defense of the same caliber as the Saints or Rams—they will need to score points to win games. Furthermore, it is the Chiefs rushing schedule that is particularly worrisome—they face the teams with the highest average rushing defense efficiency in the league, per Warren Sharp.
Facing difficult run defenses and with Andy Reid's general love of the passing game, we can expect the Chiefs to again aim to beat teams through the air. As in 2018, their pass catchers should be valuable commodities.
Sammy Watkins is Good
Before succumbing to injury, Watkins appeared in eight games where he played at least 50% of the snaps. Here are some key stats from those games:
During those eight games, Watkins matched HIll in terms of receptions and saw only 0.5 fewer targets per game. I remember these game quite vividly due to the fact that I had Tyreek Hill on a couple of my teams. Hill was a late-second- / early-third-round pick, while Watkins was going in the ninth round, yet, somehow, Watkins was sometimes getting more targets.
Of course, there is a significant difference in receiving yards and touchdowns. Both of those reflect opportunity: Hill was targetted much farther down the field, averaging 114 air yards per game, compared to the 57 of Watkins. However, two things are important to note about this.
First, Watkins was more efficient with his targets. He converted 114% of this air yards into actual yards, while Hill converted each of his air yards into only 79% as many receiving yards. (This is the RACR row.) Similarly, Watkins converted 107% of his potential TDs (based on target location) into actual TDs, while Hill converted only 95%. That higher efficiency tends to cause an increase in volume in the future. Since the team wants their air yards converted into real yards and their red zone targets converted into touchdowns, there is a good chance they would shift more of them toward Watkins over time.
We should also not forget that Watkins had only been with the team for a short time last season. The team clearly has a belief in his ability as well—they are paying him around $20 million per year in 2019 and 2020. For all three of those reasons, we might expect the volume for Watkins to increase in the future. Indeed, in the two playoff games—albeit a small sample—Watkins saw an equal target volume to Hill and outproduced him.
Second, we need to look at the actual value of the volume Watkins was seeing, not just how it compares to Hill's. The numbers above give Watkins 13.6 fantasy points per game in PPR scoring, which would have placed him at WR24 or higher in each of the last three seasons. If we regress the overall offense a bit but also give Watkins a bump for the reasons above, that still leaves his most likely outcome as a low-end WR2 / high-end WR3. This is a fair baseline estimate for Watkins in 2019.
Sammy Watkins Has Top-12 Upside
The reason that the love for Watkins has gotten out of hand, of course, is the potential of a Tyreek Hill suspension. While I still hope that Hill's child wasn't abused (as I'm sure most people do), if that is what happened, Hill will rightfully be barred from playing. In that scenario, Watkins becomes the team's WR1, in competition only with Travis Kelce for the team's top share of targets
The Chiefs seemingly drafted Mecole Hardman with an eye to putting him in Hill's role. However, Hardman is still behind Demarcus Robinson in terms of snaps with the first team, per the beat reporters. It is a stretch to believe that either one of them could see Hill's share of targets in 2019.
Instead, the most likely outcome in the event of a Hill suspension is an uptick in targets for Kelce and Watkins, along with a somewhat increased role for Robinson or Hardman.
The 2018 AFC Championship Game provides an interesting data point here. The Patriots adjusted their scheme to limit the role of Hill. As a result, Watkins became the de facto WR1. His 4 receptions for 114 yards underline his potential to be a top-12 receiver in Hill's absence.
Where To Target Him
Watkins is currently being drafted in the sixth round of drafts in 12-team leagues. That ADP is about the same as a number of receivers that we have ranked ahead of Watkins: players like Tyler Boyd, Calvin Ridley, Jarvis Landry and D.J. Moore. Those are all players that I like as well, each with an equally strong argument for being a WR2 next season. I would be happy to take any of them in the sixth round.
Watkins most likely outcome depends heavily on what happens to Tyreek Hill. In the event of a long suspension, Watkins has WR1 upside and is the best bet amongst this group. Should Hill only receive a 4 game suspension (where we have him projected now), I think Watkins stays as a likely WR3 with WR2 upside, given his low-end-WR2 pace in eight games last season and usage that was trending upward.
Personally, I like Watkins more than any of the other receivers we have ranked between 23 and 33, a group with fairly similar point projections. Once the two Tylers (Lockett and Boyd) are off the table, I'm looking down at Watkins as my next target.