Sammy Watkins Unhappy With Bills Offense

Struggling through his second year in the NFL, Sammy Watkins is unhappy with his role in Buffalo. He has made it known that he wants to be used more in the offense and needs the ball thrown his way more often. Watkins is only in his second year in the NFL but it would seem that he already has his eye on his 2nd contract with comments like these. He may have a lot to lose if he can’t get the ball thrown his way more often so let’s examine where he is coming from with his argument.

The Importance of Targets

From a contractual standpoint targets certainly help. The more you are used the more important you are to a team’s offensive philosophy. The more you get targeted the more receiving yards and touchdowns you put up. The more you land on ESPN.  The more you land on ESPN the more people begin to talk about how great you are. Eventually it leads to big money.

When we look at the biggest money contracts for players coming off their rookie deals, those players clearly have high usage levels. They had them when they started and they had them when they earned their new extensions.

Player1st/2nd Year Tgt2 Year Before Contract Tgt
AJ Green279295
Calvin Johnson243295
TY Hilton229270
Julio Jones223222
Jeremy Maclin206143
Dez Bryant176295
Mike Wallace170233
Randall Cobb135174
Victor Cruz131274
Demaryius Thomas109326

Watkins got the type of targets most of these players received as a rookie with 128. Those numbers would put him in the upper echelon of how these players produced over their first two years. This year he has just 13 targets in his games. That puts him on pace for just about 60 targets this year. Usually receivers grow in usage unless they suffer serious injury so this would not be a good sign for him. Being phased out of an offense doesn’t help you hit the important number which is the targets received in the two years leading up to your contract extension.

Seeing that the Bills just signed Marcell Dareus to a monstrous extension with one year remaining on his contract, Watkins peak contractual performance period needs to be 2016 and 2017. He needs his numbers to be in the 130-140 target per year range to get in the discussion with these others. Though some were lower, those players usually had some injury setback and hit the big numbers when healthy. The wheels for those targets are set in motion now not later.

Offensive System Issues

The other noticeable thing about that list is the quarterback that most of these players played with- Rodgers, the Mannings, Romo, Roethlisberger, Ryan, etc…In general most played with top tier players who were going to put the ball where they needed it and let the stats explode. It is far more work to do it with the likes of Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel, especially in the system that Rex Ryan would likely run.

When you look at Ryan’s short tenure with the Bills it has played out very similar to his longer stint coaching the Jets. It is a high emphasis put on a defense and high emphasis put on telling the offense to “not screw it up”. It’s not a system designed to inflate the stats, and worth, of receivers.

In Ryan’s six year’s coaching the Jets the highest number of targets that ever went to one receiver was 115, which came in 2014 with Eric Decker. The only other players to get over 100 were Braylon Edwards in 2010 and Santonio Holmes in 2011. He never produced one 1,000 yard receiver in his entire tenure. Sure the QB was bad, but plenty of teams have bad quarterbacks that have a receiver who puts up 1,000 yards, especially in a six year stretch and it’s not like the QB play is any better in Buffalo.

The Perception Problem

The goal of any receiver is to be considered a “number 1” when it comes to contract negotiations. Players that have that perception earn far more than the players who receive the “number 1A” type distinction, even if the results on the field may state differently. When you play with a below average QB getting targeted can shift the blame, even if your stats underachieve the draft status you carry, from receiver to QB.

How often do we hear “this guy is great if only he had a quarterback”. Dwayne Bowe used that logic to nail down a huge contract with the Chiefs who went out and upgraded the QB only to find Bowe was pretty much the same guy whether playing with Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn or Alex Smith. But people didn’t harp on Bowe’s flaws because he was being utilized and while his yardage and efficiency number were dropping the blame was placed on the QB. His importance during the down years to the KC offense couldn’t be understated. When they threw it was coming to him. So he got paid and the Chiefs regretted it as soon as he took the field with a new contract. But had he simply never gotten the ball he never would have received that contract that looks so foolish in hindsight.

The opposite situation played out with Michael Crabtree in San Francisco. The former 10th overall pick more or less saw his numbers max out around 100 targets a season and his production declined overall. He was not as effective as the much older Anquan Boldin and his importance to the 49ers was considered minimal. They certainly make no real attempt to re-sign him and Crabtree was looked upon as damaged goods. He had to settle for a one year deal from the Raiders to salvage his career. You will never change the perception of you ceiling if your team doesn’t use you enough.

The Bust Label

While being a top draft pick being great rewards when you are successful it also brings the added pressure of avoiding the bust label. The bust label is going to happen when teams decide to limit your use in the offense.  At the least, a highly drafted wide receiver, in my opinion, needs a few seasons around 1,000 yards or one year well above and the others in the 800-900 range to avoid the bust tag. Watkins had that last year with 982 yards simply because of how often he was thrown at. This year he is on pace for under 500 yards because he isn’t being thrown at.  500 yards would clearly bring on the start of the bust label, especially considering the Bills gave up so much in a trade to get him.  A season under 500 yards, unless shut down for injury, requires something special over the next two years to recover from its impact. With the offense that they run and QB they have it might be near impossible to have that season in Buffalo. Quite frankly he needs to find a way to back into 800 yards this year.

Darrius Heyward Bey saw that happen in Oakland. He struggled coming out of the gate and by his 4th year had become just a name in the offense. While he peaked with 975 yards, his other three rookie contract seasons went for 124, 366, and 606 yards. He’s gone on to a series of low value one year contracts to stay in the NFL. How different would things have been if he could have forced his way into 130 targets a year?  If he had the same efficiency, he would have produced 730, 1100, and 985 yards and at the least gotten a $4 millionish type of contract and maybe more considering his draft status.  But instead he was a bust. Watkins could be on that same path.

  • McGeorge

    To evaluate Watkins you need an at least moderate QB, and a couple of other threats, like a good running game, and another credible receiver. I think it’s a bit early to consider Watkins a bust. Given what the Bills invested in him, I’d expect him to get more targets and playing time as the season progresses.

  • eddiea

    Just,using/saying bust when thinking about Watkins is wrong. Who’s throwing to him and who’s the HC shiuld be considered,as the article mentioned. If anything the Bills should see what they can get fir him and take best offer. As a 2nd yr player it would be wrong for him to demand a trade,but what ever gets him out of Buffalo,would be the best thing for his career since WR don’t flourish w/Ryan as HC.

    • Ghoston

      They won’t trade Watkins they have too much invested in him when they gave up 2 firsts and a 4th to move up 5 spots. Which was a dumb trade when Evans and OBJ were in the same draft near their original pick. They still have the same GM that selected Watkins, he is tied with him until he is fired.

      • I dont think the GM will be that tied to him if he can get value back. Early on that looks like an atrocious trade but if they can find a reclamation project as they did Jerry Hughes I dont thin they would hesitate. JMO, but I think the GM might be on thin ice.

        • Jim

          I live in western NY, the GM isn’t all that popular, local media and fans were kinda surprised he’s still here. The new owner inherited him and Rex is going to have a longer leash than Whaley because of the huge investment they *just* made to Rex.

          • McGeorge

            Jim,

            1. Can Tyrod Taylor be a tier 2 QB. Not a stud, but a QB who doesn’t blow games, and occasionally makes a nice play.

            2. If the Bills draft well next year, what 2 positions do they need? Receiver?

          • Jim

            1. Remains to be seen. People here are optimistic, but lets see what happens, when he faces teams a second time, and opponents get more tape on him. His awareness isn’t good, for being so mobile, he takes a ton of sacks, but that’s kind of expected with a young QB, he might grow out of it. I can’t help but remember, he was a UFA this past Spring and signed for the veteran minimum, there was a reason for that. I know you’ve got guys who have outplayed their expectations, but for everyone one of those, you’ve got 30 guys who really were who everyone thought they were. He’s played well, but a lot of young guys have posted good 4 game stretches before, and fizzled out, he has to keep improving, because those defenses are not going to be caught off-guard for much longer. Also, with his style of play, he’s going to get hurt a lot (he’s already missed one game, maybe more), so he’s got to grow not only to improve, but just to stay healthy.

            2. I like to see teams draft best player available. The most glaring need for Buffalo, is RT and OG. OL is their biggest weakness, but Glenn and Wood are solid at LT and C. Starters are ok elsewhere but they lack depth at WR, CB, S, LB. McCoy and Williams are good 1-2 at RB, but both are hurt. And like I said above, you still don’t really know what you have at QB yet. They are good at DL right now, but not particularly young there.

            Note I am not a Bills fan, I just live in the area so the games are always locally televised and I hear a lot about them on local radio.