A lot of people did not know it, but an off-season hip surgery coupled with a calf injury, as well as an ankle injury to start of the 2015 football season, slowed Sammy Watkins’ second year in Buffalo down.
“Being healthy, getting healthy and staying healthy was the key,” the former Clemson wide receiver told the Buffalo Bills.com in a recent article.
Watkins was not truly healthy until the eighth week of the season, though he played injured for a majority of that time. But that didn’t keep Watkins from speaking his mind. At one point he called out his coaches and his team, basically saying if they wanted to be successful they needed to find ways to get the ball in his hands – so they did.
“We feel his is a dominant player,” said Bills’ General Manger Bill Whaley in the same article. “He himself has put a lot of pressure on himself to be that type of player. He wants to be, believes he can be and he’s working to be. We have all the faith in the world that he’ll become one of the top tier receivers in the league. We’re extremely happy we have him.”
How can they not be after the way Watkins ended the season? In Buffalo’s last nine games the former Clemson star had 900 receiving yards, while scoring seven of his nine touchdowns. Only Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Atlanta’s Julio Jones had more yards during that stretch.
Watkins averaged 100 yards per game in the last nine weeks of the season, while averaging 18.4 yards per catch.
“Being on the right page with Tyrod (Taylor), our offense was already playing okay, and then once I came back we just kept doing the same thing,” Watkins said. “We just kept jelling together and getting better.”
In the last half of the season Watkins and his quarterback finally got on the same page. Taylor, who graduated from Virginia Tech, targeted Watkins nine times a game in the second half of the season.
“Of course with a playmaker like Sammy you want to get him the ball,” Taylor said. “Our offense can feed off of him… But of course you’d like to get a guy that talented the ball as much as you can because when you do he can be dangerous.”
Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan, whose son Seth is the holder on the Clemson football team, says Watkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL and everyone will see it next year when he is healthy for an entire season.
“You’ll see the numbers and everything else. The guy is a great football player,” he said.
“Let’s face it, if he was healthy the whole season this year we would be talking about him possibly being in (the Pro Bowl),” Ryan continued. “He really only got healthy probably the last 10 games of the season. So I would think we would see that happen. We obviously have an elite receiver there.”
Watkins proved it some in the Bills’ season-finale against the New York Jets. With the Jets needing a win to secure a spot in the NFL Playoffs, Watkins was unstoppable, and he went off against the best cornerback in the league – Darrelle Revis.
The Clemson product had 11 catches for 136 yards in the Bills’ 22-17 victory. Watkins was known for his high football IQ when he was at Clemson. Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman tested that out in the Jets’ game.
Roman had Watkins play three different positions in the Week 17 contest, confusing the New York defense. It proved just how versatile Watkins can be.
“I had to learn three different positions to hide myself from coverages,” Watkins said in an ESPN interview. “For me it was a test, and it was different. I took accountability and studied more.”
In taking it upon himself to learn different positions, while holding himself and his teammates accountable for their failures, Watkins showed the Bills he wasn’t doing things for himself. He wants to play for a winner and he wants to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
“It shows me we have the ultimate team player, a young player that is learning how to be a pro,” Whaley said. “He knows if he does what he’s supposed to do and everybody else in that locker room does what they’re supposed to do and hold each other accountable, the sky is the limit for the team. So I’m very excited about his leadership qualities – not only on the field, but off the field.”
If you haven’t already order your copy today of Guts & Glory – Tales of Clemson’s Historic 2015 Football Season to help you celebrate and remember this special season.