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Sammy Watkins: Arbitrary Superstar

Sammy Watkins is very good at football. Incredible, even. One of the best 3 wide receivers in this class, by anyone’s estimation. Even mine. I’ve taken some heat on Twitter for basically attempting to be a voice of reason on Watkins. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report compared him to Calvin Johnson and said he was a better WR prospect than Julio Jones. Greg Cosell stated that he was the best WR prospect since A.J Green.

My question is: why?

Cerberus Situation

The two top WR’s in this draft for around 95% of analysts are Mike Evans and Watkins. For me, Jordan Matthews has been my #1 guy since the start of the 2013 CFB season and I have seen nothing from the combine, bowl games or pro days to cause a change of mind. Here are the 3 top WR’s compared using the Rotoviz College WR Career Graph’s App.

Matthews leads in Dominator Rating (Market Share of Yards and Market Share of TD’s combined and divided by 2), Evans destroys the other two in Yards Per Target and Red Zone Touchdown Conversion %. Watkins slightly edges out Evans in Dominator Rating (.32 to .30), but certainly nothing to suggest that Watkins is just head and shoulders above Evans as player. It’s worth mentioning that Watkins did have a tremendous age 18 freshmen year, which probably matters in some degree, but the people whose work I greatly respect (Jon Moore and Fantasy Douche) have both done work on the subject and found that final season Dominator Rating remains the most predictive.

So if Watkins wasn’t particularly dominant production wise over the other two, he probably destroyed the combine, right? That’s the only way it could possibly make sense that he has been granted “Next Julio Jones” status by the football community.

Name Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Football Outsiders Speed Score Height-Adjusted Speed Score Bench Press Vert Leap (in) Broad Jump Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score
Mike Evans 77 231 4.53 109.71 116.98 12 37 N/a 4.26 7.08 11.34
Jordan Matthews 75 212 4.46 107.16 110.67 21 35.5 120 4.18 6.95 11.13
Sammy Watkins 73 211 4.43 109.57 107.89 16 34 125 4.34 6.95 11.29

Watkins certainly didn’t have a BAD combine, but Jeff Janis makes him look like Jonah Hill. Evans was the tallest, but Watkins was the fastest… except for when you adjust for height and weight, in which case Evans dismantles Watkins. Matthews benched the most and had the best agility score, but in reality, Watkins and Matthews are pretty similar as athletes. The problem for Watkins is that he is at an immediate disadvantage due to height. I know, I know, he’s flashy and he plays like a running back and he’s incredible, but 74% of double digit receiving TD seasons in the NFL the last 5 years have come from players 6’2 or taller. Height matters.

So… where is all the hype coming from? Matthews was the most productive college player in terms of Market Shares and Evans was the most explosive on a per play basis. Evans is also the best athlete and has the best frame in terms of future athletic freak production. So again, we have Watkins not standing out, and in a few aspects, even trailing the other two, yet the talk in the dynasty fantasy football community is that Watkins is a surefire 1.01 rookie pick.

“I play like Torrey Smith”-Sammy Watkins

I took some heat early on in the draft process for comping Watkins to Torrey Smith, mostly because Torrey Smith hasn’t been a superstar at the NFL level and well, Watkins needs to be a superstar to justify all of the hyperbole. Then, Watkins told’s Bucky Brooks that he does in fact, play like Torrey Smith. Unsurprisingly, Smith shows up on Watkins’ comp list.

Year Name College POS Height (in) ▴ Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Vert Leap (in) Broad Jump (in) Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score
2014 Sammy Watkins Clemson WR 73 211 4.43 34 125 4.34 6.95 11.29
1999 David Boston Ohio State WR 73 215 4.47 37 116 4.09 7.2 11.29
2010 Donald Jones Youngstown State (OH) WR 73 214 4.46 41 119 4.2 6.9 11.1
2009 Andrew Means Indiana WR 73 214 4.46 34.5 116 4.21 6.85 11.06
2009 Juaquin Iglesias Oklahoma WR 73 210 4.44 34.5 116 4.4 N/A
2008 Pierre Garcon Mount Union WR 73 210 4.42 36.5 125 4.19 6.9 11.09
2007 Paul Williams Fresno State WR 73 205 4.45 38.5 125 4.24 7.03 11.27
2006 Ben Obomanu Auburn WR 73 205 4.45 38 116 4.23 7.18 11.41
2003 Talman Gardner Florida State WR 73 205 4.44 34.5 116 4.43 7.54 11.97
2011 Torrey Smith Maryland WR 73 204 4.41 41 126 4.13 6.72 10.85
2010 Taylor Price Ohio WR 73 204 4.4 37 114 4.34 6.82 11.16

That’s it. Those are the comps that are found by searching for guys exactly his height, within .3 of his 40, and within 10 pounds. Watkins clearly has the size advantage on Smith, who I still believe is a pretty solid comp due to the fact that Watkins was used at or behind the line of scrimmage on half of his plays in his final season at Clemson. The other 2 positive comps are Pierre Garcon and David Boston. That Boston comp is 15 years old and he really had only 2 solid years before flaming out. The Garcon comp is an interesting one, because I’ve heard that sentiment echoed by the game watching community. I’ve never owned Garcon in fantasy and I certainly wouldn’t be salivating about taking him at 1.01 of my rookie draft. Still, Garcon and Smith are solid, if unspectacular comps, but they don’t doom Watkins by any means.

Actionable Information (No, really)

I promise that there is a larger point here besides “Please stop worshiping at the altar of Watkins”. There is no way to objectively look at the data and say “This player will have an on field impact similar to Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson.” It’s just not possible. If you want to subjectively look at his Draft Breakdown clips and believe, that’s a different story, but there is no publicly available information that suggests a future superstar. However, we do have enough information to believe that Watkins will be a very good player. He is going to be drafted highly, thrust into a starting role immediately and be given as many opportunities as he can handle as the centerpiece of an offense. That alone will make him a very valuable fantasy commodity. The response to this piece should not be “Wow, Sammy Watkins is not a good WR”, it should be “Maybe Watkins isn’t as good as I was told by the thought leaders.”

That being said, if you own the 1.01 in your rookie draft, you need to sell that pick immediately. The hyperbole and arbitrarily decided praise has created a version of Sammy Watkins that he simply will not be able to live up to. In leagues where I have the 1.01, I am going to trade the pick or select Watkins and trade him afterwards. Even if you are a huge fan of Watkins, I think it’s a worthwhile discussion to have with yourself. This is probably a once-every-5-years chance to turn unwarranted hype into pure profit in a fantasy football context.

This discussion isn’t fair to a very good player, but the key to long term success in fantasy football is playing the percentages and putting yourself in a position to win. Overpaying for a player who has a capped ceiling in a very deep draft just isn’t a winning strategy. I’d rather fire 3 bullets on Jeff Janis, Donte Moncreif and Davante Adams than give up my whole draft for Watkins. If nothing else, just ask yourself this: “WHY do I think Watkins is worth his price tag?”

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