In his last game in a Clemson uniform, Sammy Watkins gave his many Tiger fans something to always remember him by and NFL scouts a glimpse of what they now project him as.
Watkins exploded for a 16 catch, 227 yards, two touchdown outing in the Tigers’ 40-35 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State and the rest has been history. History as in the 6-foot-1, 205 pound speedy flanker now ranks as an almost surefire Top 10 pick in this year’s NFL draft; history as in Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke now foresees the Detroit Lions tabbing him with the tenth overall pick and he and Calvin Johnson instantly forming arguably the league’s best 1-2 wideout tandem.
“Watkins fits every need Detroit has across from Megatron,” Burke wrote. Thing is, that same assessment holds true for virtually any NFL team with plans of ever throwing the ball next season, particularly the more than handful who find themselves in need of a future No. 1 receiver.
Yes, it’s a good time to be Sammy Watkins, who ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rates as this year’s draft No. 5 overall selection (and rising) and Scouts Inc. projects as the highest rated receiver and No. 4 overall prospect.
“The dream is here,” Watkins told CBSSports.com of his decision to now leave Clemson as the school’s all-time receptions leader with a year of eligibility still remaining. This year along, he snared 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But every bit as impressive as his flashy skill set, was the intestinal fortitude Watkins showed in his final season at Clemson. By his career standards, 2012 was a major disappointment, one riddled with a two-game drug-related suspension to begin with and just 57 catches overall when all was said and done.
“They were going to get the best out of me,” Watkins told CBS of his mindset going into what amounted to his season of redemption. “I’ve got to be a complete player. I think I managed that well this year.”
And he did it all in an assortment of ways. Watkins excelled at everything from screen passes to go routes in the Tigers high-powered offense, highlighted by a pair of 90-plus yard TD receptions that rate among the longest scoring plays in school history.
Scouts also rave about his “smooth acceleration” and crafty footwork, easily allowing him to beat defensive backs off the line of scrimmage and make maximum use of his wondrous body control that also aides him in eluding would-be tacklers.
Ultimately, it all could put what could be the Lions best laid plans in grave jeopardy, as the Falcons appear to be salivating just as hard over the thought of pairing Watkins with quarterback Matt Ryan as he’s allowed to learn the ways of the NFL under veteran Pro Bowler Roddy White.
Ditto for the Bills at No. 9, who envision Watkins and second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel growing, side-by side, to the point of forming the base of their offense for at least the next several season.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Watkins told ESPN of his NFL timing. And scouts everywhere seem to agree.