By William Qualkinbush
People may characterize Sammy Watkins’ 2012 campaign as a sophomore slump. In fact, the argument is used to support a better junior season for the Floridian.
But the idea Watkins somehow became an unwitting victim of circumstance is a tad off base.
First of all, his May 2012 arrest has been discussed ad nauseum. The subsequent suspension was a necessary measure taken by Dabo Swinney to make sure Watkins understood the gravity of his actions and the standard to which he is held by admirers of both his play and the Clemson program.
After a brief absence, Watkins returned to an offense rolling along with Nuk Hopkins as the primary receiving target. In spite of efforts to convince observers to the contrary, it appeared Watkins was utilized as a decoy for a large portion of last season while Andre Ellington and Hopkins—along with tight end Brandon Ford—grabbed the headlines among skill players.
Another reason why the term “sophomore slump” can’t be attached to Watkins is that he still had a very good statistical season. The Biletnikoff Award candidate caught 57 passes for 708 yards, with the main downturn coming in his touchdown catches (3). Watkins managed to average 12.3 yards per play, despite what some might feel was a rough year.
This season, Watkins is in a unique position. In 2011, he was the top dog among the wide receivers. Hopkins was his sidekick, but it was Watkins who became the go-to player in the passing game. Last season, Hopkins seized that mantle and never relinquished it.
So now Watkins is re-stepping into the role he filled during his surprising freshman campaign. More mature and grounded, he expects to show vast improvement, and his teammates need it because of key losses like Hopkins, Ellington, and Ford. In their places are unproven commodities, so having a player like Watkins that is a known playmaker will certainly help quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris sleep better.
Watkins’ value manifests itself in a number of ways. He can catch short, intermediate, or downfield passes. He can run the ball on jet sweeps, or he can open things up by going in motion. He can be a force in the return game.
Every snap Sammy Watkins is on the football field, he must be watched closely by the opposition. This is why he is ranked second on this list.