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Three Reasons I Changed My Mind on Sammy Watkins


I wouldn’t say that we’ve been bashing Sammy Watkins here on the site, but we’ve definitely written some pieces seen as blasphemy by people who love Watkins. Personally I’ve come to a little bit of a realization in the past week and that is that while I think I kind of want to hate on Watkins, I actually probably like him quite a bit.

First, I did a post looking at the performances of Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins against common opponents. We liked Hopkins a lot last year, so if Watkins outperformed Hopkins over their shared time at Clemson, that should be worth something right? And then Jon Moore has also written on the similarities that the players share.

Then Jon Mooore also wrote a post looking at Jordan Matthews and Sammy Watkins against common opponents. The two receivers were pretty identical except that Matthews had better Market Share numbers while Watkins had the age advantage.

But then I was also going through a new metric that I have been experimenting with and Watkins looked great on that metric as well.

The metric is similar to Market Share in that it’s an attempt to adjust for offensive scheme. Except instead of using simple percent shares, I calculate a z-score for every game that a receiver plays in where the mean used is the yardage total for each receiver that played for the school in that year, and then the standard deviation used is computed on the same data (games by all of the receivers that played for the school).

So Watkins’ 227 yards against Ohio State has a z-score of 4.5 among all of the games by Clemson receivers in 2013, and a z-score of 4.3 among all of the games against Ohio State (by any receiver of any school that OSU faced).

I don’t want that metric to sound complicated because it’s not. It’s just an attempt to standardize yardage totals based on the offense and defense involved. The metric also works pretty well, although it’s just barely less predictive than actual Market Shares.

Here’s a table showing Watkins’ scores along with the raw totals:

SAMMY WATKINS 1/3/2014 13 Clemson N Ohio State W 16 227 14.2 2 1 4.57 4.27
SAMMY WATKINS 11/2/2013 9 Clemson @ Virginia W 8 169 21.1 2 11 3.17 3.78
SAMMY WATKINS 10/26/2013 8 Clemson @ Maryland W 14 163 11.6 0 10 3.03 3.64
SAMMY WATKINS 9/28/2013 4 Clemson Wake Forest W 6 113 18.8 1 9 1.82 2.68
SAMMY WATKINS 8/31/2013 1 Clemson Georgia W 6 127 21.2 1 8 2.16 2.47
SAMMY WATKINS 10/5/2013 5 Clemson @ Syracuse W 4 126 31.5 1 10 2.14 2.41
SAMMY WATKINS 11/30/2013 12 Clemson @ South Carolina L 7 93 13.3 0 11 1.34 2.22
SAMMY WATKINS 9/19/2013 3 Clemson @ North Carolina State W 10 96 9.6 0 9 1.41 2.01
SAMMY WATKINS 10/19/2013 7 Clemson Florida State L 8 68 8.5 1 10 0.74 1.89
SAMMY WATKINS 11/14/2013 10 Clemson Georgia Tech W 5 104 20.8 2 11 1.61 1.78
SAMMY WATKINS 10/12/2013 6 Clemson Boston College W 7 101 14.4 1 10 1.53 1.71
SAMMY WATKINS 11/23/2013 11 Clemson Citadel W 7 58 8.3 1 11 0.50 0.82
SAMMY WATKINS 9/7/2013 2 Clemson South Carolina State W 3 19 6.3 0 9 (0.44) (0.17)

You can see that 68 yards against Florida St actually has a higher z-score than 104 yards against Georgia Tech.

To give you a sense as to how Watkins does on this measure, I ran full career averages for Watkins, AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery and Julio Jones, here’s what the table looks like:

Name Year School Yds Avg Z-Score (OFF) Yds Avg Z-Score (DEF) Combined 40 Time Weight Height
SAMMY WATKINS 2013 Clemson 1.40 1.90 1.65 4.43 211 72.75
AJ GREEN 2010 Georgia 1.40 1.72 1.56 4.48 211 75.63
ALSHON JEFFERY 2011 South Carolina 1.37 1.59 1.48 4.48 216 74.88
JULIO JONES 2010 Alabama 1.31 1.30 1.31 4.34 220 74.75

Again, to explain the numbers – the OFF number is among other Clemson receivers. The DEF number is among receiving games put up by the receivers that Clemson’s opponents faced. You can see that if you adjust production in this way Watkins actually comes out about on par with AJ Green and then he’s slightly ahead of Jeffery and Jones on a full career basis. This is not to say that I think Watkins is actually a better prospect than these guys. He’s still 2 inches shorter than all of them and that probably does impact how we think about his total upside.

We’re going to be putting out rookie rankings on the site in a few days, so I have to figure out who my #1 WR will be. I’m actually leaning Watkins right now. It’s true that he does lag slightly on Market Share and he doesn’t have WR1 height. But if you pick almost any other way to describe his production (besides Market Share) he comes out looking great. So I think it might be myopic if I focus on that Market Share number despite a bunch of other information that indicates he’s likely to be good.

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