(Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports)

Sammy Watkins: The NFL's top deep ball threat

Sammy Watkins has been on a tear in the second half of the 2015 season. The receiver has also emerged as the league's top deep ball threat.

Since November, Sammy Watkins has looked like the player the Buffalo Bills envisioned they’d get when they traded up in the 2014 NFL draft.

Injuries and a lack of targets slowed Watkins down to start the 2015 season. Through eight weeks, four games played, Watkins had 11 receptions, 147 yards and two touchdowns on 18 targets. Watkins was hampered over this stretch of time with calf and ankle injuries. Even after the team’s bye week in Week 8, Watkins wasn’t 100 percent. However, his health was much improved and it’s not surprising that Watkins’ play was much improved.

Watkins: Just Target Me

The wide receiver knew what he could do on the field and back in October, the receiver became vocal in the media. Via the Buffalo News:

"When I have one-on-one coverage, go to me," Watkins said. "I don’t care what’s going on over there. I don’t care if he’s open. When I get one on one, just target me."

EJ Manuel heard the message and in the first half of action against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6, Watkins caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. Watkins didn’t return to the game and wouldn’t return to the lineup until Week 9.

Watkins and Tyrod Taylor Return; Chemistry Builds

In Week 9, Watkins’ tear began. The wide receiver wasn’t 100 percent but he was healthy enough to play. Buffalo’s starting QB, Tyrod Taylor, was also returning to action after suffering a sprained MCL. Although the duo struggled to find chemistry early in the season, they were able to hit the ground running. Here’s a look at Watkins’ stats since Week 9.

Week 9-16











Watkins is 17th in receptions over this span of time but he’s making the most of his receptions. His 764 yards receiving is third in the NFL behind only Antonio Brown (936) and Julio Jones (830). Per reception, Watkins has averaged 20.1 yards per catch over this span of time. Only Torrey Smith of the 49ers has averaged more per catch (21.7 YPC on 12 receptions). The seven touchdowns tie Watkins with Ted Ginn Jr. for fourth most in the NFL behind Doug Baldwin (12), Brandon Marshall (9), and Allen Robinson (8).

The Bills wide receiver has seen about 84 percent of his yards in the last eight games. How has the receiver done it? Mostly via the deep ball.

Sammy “Big Play” Watkins

With one game remaining in the season, you can make an argument that Watkins is the NFL’s best deep threat. Here’s a look at the four players in Pro Football Focus’ deep passing category with the most deep ball targets this season.


Targets 20+ yards downfield




Catch Rate Percentage

Allen Robinson






DeAndre Hopkins






Emmanuel Sanders






Sammy Watkins






(Stats from Pro Football Focus)

This season, Watkins has been targeted 34 times on passes 20 yards or more downfield. He’s pulled in 16 deep passes, third in the NFL behind Robinson and Hopkins, and has made the most of the receptions. Watkins’ 606 yards on deep passes is second in the NFL and accounts for about 67 percent of his overall yardage. The 16 receptions for Watkins average out to about 38 yards per catch, slightly better than the 36 yards per catch that Robinson averages on the deep ball.

Most impressive is the fact that half of Watkins’ deep pass receptions have resulted in touchdowns. No wide receiver in the NFL has more touchdowns via the deep ball than Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver.

With one week remaining no receiver has outperformed Watkins on deep ball passes.

1,000 yards in sight

It’s rather impressive that Watkins has a shot at 1,000 yards, considering his slow start this season. Yet, with one week to go, Watkins just needs 89 yards to reach the total. Standing in his way is Darrelle Revis and the NY Jets.

The last time Watkins faced off against Revis, he caught three passes for 14 yards on seven targets. It sounds as though Revis shut Watkins down but that wasn’t the case. In fact, Watkins left Revis in his dust on Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage and an inaccurate pass from Taylor prevented the receiver from starting the game with an 82 yard touchdown score. NFL game pass also showed multiple routes where Buffalo’s receiver created separation from Revis but didn’t have the ball go in his direction.

In Week 17, the Bills have nothing to lose by targeting Watkins early and often against Revis. Taylor shouldn’t be careless with the ball, but he should be open to taking some shots at Watkins. If Buffalo runs with success on the Jets, it’ll also help open things up for Taylor and Watkins.

Watkins has a chance to make a major statement in Week 17 against Revis. Watkins’ former college teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, overtook Revis Island back in Week 11 and Watkins has the opportunity to do the same in the season finale. If Watkins is able to go for 89 yards or more against the future Hall of Fame cornerback, expectations will be high for him in 2016.

Over the last eight weeks, Watkins has been one of the NFL’s best wide receivers and no player has been a bigger deep threat this season than Watkins. On Sunday, Watkins can put an exclamation point on the second half of his 2015 season by claiming Revis Island.


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