Why Drafting WR Sammy Watkins Would Be a Mistake for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Jan 3, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins (2) scores a touchdown in the first half of the 2014 Orange Bowl college football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2013 season with the worst offense in the NFL, mainly due to possessing the worst passing attack in the league in terms of yards per game. Between the awful offensive scheme, dramatic quarterback switch and the failures at the wide receiver position, there were plenty of reasons for why the Buccaneers finished in the cellar in terms of throwing the football.

So with the NFL Draft approaching, it’s easy to pencil in an offensive weapon for the Buccaneers, because they need to upgrade their offense to return to relevance in the tough NFC South.

Because of this, a large portion of fans and media members have suggested that the Bucs will add Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the seventh pick of the NFL Draft. And while that seems to fit Jeff Tedford’s “speed in space” philosophy, I see it as a mistake and a waste.

Mike Glennon Can’t Use Three Great Receivers

Dec 29, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (8) throws against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 42-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2013 season, one team stood out from the rest in the passing game, and they possessed a trio of excellent wide receivers who all had stellar seasons. It would be easy to point to this team as an example for the Buccaneers to follow, except that they have the greatest quarterback of all time under center.

Peyton Manning and the Broncos had a loaded wide receiver corps in 2013, but because they had Manning at quarterback, there were enough attempts, and completions, to go around. The same is not true about Mike Glennon.

Glennon missed open receivers on a regular basis in 2013, and unless the Buccaneers are willing to risk a first-round pick that he’ll instantly get over that weakness, Watkins would not be used to his greatest potential in Tampa Bay.

In fact, Glennon heavily targeted Vincent Jackson, ignoring the capable hands of Tim Wright on many occasions. The return of Mike Williams will be a test enough for Glennon’s decision-making and field reading ability, and adding a third dynamic option at receiver would likely result in one (or more) of the players being ignored by their limited quarterback.

Adding wide receivers to an otherwise lacking offense is a strategy used by the Raiders and Lions in recent history, while successful teams like the Seahawks, Saints and Patriots find unheralded contributors to round out their WR corps.

That’s not to say that the Buccaneers should ignore the third receiver position, but to spend a valuable pick in search of a third option for a questionable quarterback seems like a recipe for disaster.

Watkins Is Not a Lock to Be a Great NFL Player

Using the seventh pick on a wide receiver means that player has A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson upside. In watching Sammy Watkins, I don’t see it.

Yes, Sammy Watkins is incredibly fast, and unlike many other quick receivers, he actually has very good catching technique and strong hands. Watkins isn’t the type of guy to let the ball bounce off of his chest, because he’s snatching the ball from mid-air with his talented mitts.

But a majority of Watkins’ career at Clemson was spent catching screens, or running past helpless ACC defensive backs for big scores. In watching his tape, I saw very few plays where Watkins was called upon to make a contested catch, and on the few plays I did see where Watkins was challenged, his results were mixed at best.

In the NFL, the quick screen pass will only work until defenses press Watkins, unafraid of his speed due to equally quick defensive backs or well-placed safeties. And the unknown surrounding his ability to make a tough catch while being closely guarded means his reliability isn’t a given on crucial down and distance situations.

Watkins is therefore not a complete receiver yet, and is instead a potent mixture of potential and athleticism. I would have no problem adding Watkins later in the first round, but for the Buccaneers to take him in the top-10 in a relatively strong draft class means he’s a Pro Bowl player who will emerge alongside two other good receivers, and I don’t think that’s something anyone can say with confidence at this point.

The Buccaneers Have Two Very Good Receivers, Considering the Quarterback

Nov 17, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

If I were any other team, I may consider Watkins in the top-10. He’s a terrific athlete, and if he does prove that he can make the tough catch, he has “bigger Percy Harvin” upside.

But the Buccaneers already have the talented and well-paid duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside. And while neither of them have elite speed, they both possess a trait that is indispensable with a less than ideal quarterback like Mike Glennon.

Margin for error.

Both Jackson and Williams provide big, strong targets who can fight, leap and dive for the football. It’s true that neither player is going to catch a one-yard pass and run 90 yards for a score, but both are more likely to haul in a misplaced pass or leap for a poorly thrown back-shoulder fade.

Mike Glennon’s ball placement and accuracy are suspect, so having bigger, stronger receivers is a valuable asset. Glennon would have no trouble finding Watkins on a quick screen, but if Watkins is covered downfield, Glennon hasn’t shown the ability to throw an accurate ball on a “go” or “9” route. That’s where Watkins wins, and that’s not where Glennon wins.

The quarterback is the most important position on the field, and if the quarterback has weaknesses, the team must cater to those.

The WR Class is Deep, and the Top of the Draft Holds Plenty of Options

There are so many options for the Buccaneers at wide receiver this offseason, that simply selecting Sammy Watkins because he’s a wide receiver doesn’t make sense.

The 2014 NFL Draft is loaded with options, including the good chance that a very good, first-round talent receiver will be available at the top of the second round. But even if the Buccaneers pass on receiver in the first two rounds, the fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds will feature capable receivers who will be able to step in to the slot right away.

The Bucs can also add a free agent to address their need for a slot receiver, to further increase the odds of getting the right guy to complete the offense.

Not only is wide receiver deep, but the top-10 of the draft will feature so many players that would provide upgrades to starters for the Buccaneers. Tackles Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson would represent long-term solutions at the left tackle spot, while pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack would give the Buccaneers a boost on defense and give Lovie Smith the quarterback pressure he wants. And obviously, quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater represent an upgrade from Mike Glennon, and may be available at seven despite the incredible amount of mock drafts saying otherwise.

And even if these players are all gone, a trade down to recoup the picks lost in the Darrelle Revis and Gabe Carimi trades while targeting a middle-of-the-first-round pass rusher, tight end, or offensive lineman would be a better use of the valuable seventh pick than adding a slot receiver and kick returner who isn’t guaranteed to be an elite player.

I understand that a lot of Buccaneer fans like the idea of Sammy Watkins, and I see the reasons why fans might fall in love with his prospects. But for the way the Buccaneers are constructed, there are better uses of the seventh pick in the draft.