Sammy Watkins burst on to the college football scene as a true freshman in 2011. He hauled in 82 catches for 12 touchdowns and averaged just under 15 yards per reception on over 1200 yards receiving. Those numbers were good enough to earn him All-American honors, becoming only the fourth true freshman (first ever as a receiver) to be named as an All-American behind Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson.
Last season Watkins was expected to produce huge numbers. With a full college season under his belt, one where he absolutely dominated against ACC and SEC teams, the sophomore receiver was slated to have one of, if not the best season of any of the wideouts in the nation.
But before Watkins even had a chance to begin his much anticipated sophomore campaign, he ran into an offseason bind.
In the spring of 2012, Watkins was charged with possession of marijuana as well as two bottles of prescription drugs, both of which were not prescribed to him, resulting in his suspension for the first two games Clemson played against Auburn and Ball State.
In addition to missing the first two games of year, Watkins also sat out against Boston College due to injury and was unable to play against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl after suffering an injury and being carted off after the second play of the game from scrimmage.
Despite missing four games due to injury and suspension, Watkins still had 57 receptions for 708 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 12.4 yards per reception. Still a good season, right? Wrong. Watkins’ numbers dipped in every category possible as his role on the offense diminished; partially because he was never able to play 100% healthy and partially because he was forced to watch DeAndre Hopkins manhandle opposing defenses.
In his first two years with the Tigers, Hopkins had racked up 1604 yards and 9 touchdowns on 123 catches. As good as those numbers were, Hopkins had a monster junior year, reeling in 82 balls for 1405 yards and 18 touchdowns. By the time his junior season was over, Hopkins had set many receiving records at Clemson, including the most yards receiving in the Chick-Fil-A bowl with 191. He became the all time leader in career receiving yards with 3009, tied the single season record for receptions with 82, and his 18 touchdowns plus his 1405 receiving yards last year were both good enough to make him Clemson’s single season record holder for both of those categories. He also holds the school record for most career touchdowns with 27.
So it’s easy to see why Sammy Watkins did not have as big of an impact on Clemson’s offense last year as everyone thought he would. But now with DeAndre Hopkins gone along with running back Andre Ellington, it will be Sammy Watkins’ turn once again to be in the limelight.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd is already slated to be a top 3 pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He’s a proven, dual threat quarterback who, barring any major injury or horrific season, will be very high on many team’s draft board. However if Watkins were to have another “down” season, he could potentially lose millions of dollars. He has the height (6’1”) and speed to be a legitimate NFL threat, but if Watkins does not produce in the way he did his freshman year, he could find himself slipping out of the first round.
But the junior receiver seems to have the right mindset at this point. He has made it clear how he realizes how his offseason actions last year were a mistake and how he has learned from them. He is also learning how to take better care of himself to be as in good of shape as possible for this upcoming season.
“I am completely ready for this. Last year I got in trouble and I sort of kept to myself, I wasn’t mature as far as nutrition and how to take care of my body, but I know that now and I’ve never been in better shape.”
Watkins went on to say, “I didn’t really know how to hydrate, how to get good nutrition for myself, but I’ve learned that. I will play at about 203, about eight or so less than last year and it feels perfect at this weight. I feel explosive and I’m hungry to get back on the field and help my teammates.”
Perhaps a light has gone off for Watkins now. He has realized his true potential not only as Clemson’s number one scoring threat but also as a receiver many teams will be interested come draft time in April.
This year Sammy Watkins has the opportunity to show everyone why he was an All-American his freshman year. He is undoubtedly the most talented receiver on Clemson’s roster and with a good year could surpass DeAndre Hopkins as Clemson’s all time best receiver.
With a total of 1082 yards and just 12 touchdowns, Watkins would tie DeAndre Hopkins for the most receiving yards and touchdowns in school history. Does that really seem that difficult of a mark for Watkins to reach this season? He will undoubtedly be Tajh Boyd’s number one option and with his speed should have no trouble getting behind the defense and making big plays all year long for the Tigers.
With the right attitude and determination, Watkins will surely be a first rounder. In Clemson’s spring game back in April, he caught 7 passes for 156 yards and a pair of scores, so it seems as though he is back on track to becoming the Sammy Watkins that gave opposing defensive coaches nightmares the week leading up to the game. If he is able to return to form and put up numbers the way he did his freshman year, look for Sammy to contend with USC receiver Marquis Lee to be the first receiver taken in the 2014 draft.