A huge favorite across the 32 NFL team spectrum, Watkins is - or was? - the top rated wide receiver prospect in this year's draft. There's absolutely no denying how talented the Clemson star is, and little doubt he'll excel in the NFL. Yet, the undeniable truth to be found in the current NFL, is "Red Zone" value. Storming up draft boards, Texas A&M's Mike Evans is turning heads. At 6'4", and 231 lbs, in another age he'd be a tight end, and more than likely a good one. Running a 4.51 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, Evans' 10 yard split time may have been the biggest catalyst for his edging up draft boards: 1.57 seconds. Size, speed, and an excellent catch radius will make him a tough wide receiver to pass on for teams searching for red zone answers. What's more, if you match Watkins up to NFC West defenses, then compare Evans, it's easy to see why Johnny Manziel's former favorite college target could creep up to being the top wide receiver prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft...
Wide receivers are a risk when it comes to the draft. Hits are rarer than misses when it come to gleaning whether a wide receiver has what it takes to excel in the NFL. Mike Evans will be a solid wide out at the next level, but it's Sammy Watkins who I think will be a flat out star. Why?
I've never hidden the fact my college football prospect knowledge is on par with my ability to perform brain surgery, or even the more taxing talent necessary to bake the perfect cupcake... Mmm! Cupcakes! Yet, as a respected sports writer - stop laughing DC! - and NFL fan, it's incumbent upon me to suss out the right and wrong of quite a few things - one of them being NFL talent. It falls to me to gather data from draft guru-s, then parse it all. When I look at Watkins' highlight reels - against some strong college teams - it's more than clear to me he possesses rare gifts of speed, talent, and a love for the game of football that's rarely seen. What's more, he's a good kid; showing both class and poise in the plethora of interviews he's given since the NFL Combine.
So what makes him better than Evans? Let's assume - for the moment - we give the red zone nod to Evans. Stop denying it! The Texas A&M receiver is taller, and weighs more, so he'll have an edge in confined space battles for the ball. While I don't doubt Watkins will fight for a catch, the "Law of Tonnage" applies here. But do NFL teams draft for a single item in the red zone win column? I don't think it's unreasonable to do so, but I also believe a player's talent resume should include more to be worthy of a top 10 draft pick.
Watkins gives an offense options. He's far more capable of drawing double coverage on the outside than Evans. His route running ability exceeds Evans' at this point, so Watkins is far more NFL ready to make an impact day one of the coming season. Then there's YAC - Yards After Catch - and it's where the comparison between the two starts to separate. Watkins represent a scoring threat on every play, while Evans will wait for mismatches in coverage for a game breaking play. Both have slot receiver potential, but Watkins will draw a more elite player in coverage, potentially opening up other receiver options for a quarterback.
It's the "WOW factor" Watkins represents I just turn away from, and he has it by the boatload. What's more, I don't think I've seen another wide receiver with a absolute love for the game since Calvin Johnson was taken #2 overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Sammy Watkins is going to be an NFL coach's dream, and if he goes to a team just outside the Super Bowl cool kids door, his selection will kick it open. I can see Carolina or Baltimore moving up to take him. The teams still searching for better than .500 records may not be the best place for him though. If the St. Louis Rams select him, he'd be caught in a pool of unproven wide receivers clamoring for catches. The Rams have a promising group, with Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and soon to light-it-up undercard-man Stedman Bailey. But Watkins would also find himself in back of a move-the-chains guy like Austin Pettis, and an also-ran like Brian Quick.
I find few flaws in Watkins' potential as an NFL player. If there's one thing he'll have to adjust to, it's his desire to absorb hits. In the NFL, it's going to lead to concussion time at the very least. Fans love to see a player fighting for yardage, but coaches in the NFL strongly believe in a being able to finish a game.
The bottom line, I do think Mike Evans will be chosen BEFORE Watkins this May. It will be by a team looking create a stronger red zone offense, like Jacksonville or Oakland. Watkins more than likely won't fall beyond the #10 pick, with teams frantically moving up to snag him if he lasts beyond the top five draft choices. Better still, even though I downgraded Watkins vs Evans in the red zone, he may have the edge from the 10 to 20 yard line as his future offense approaches the goal line.
I've been walking the bandwagon lines most of us have; jumping from player to player with the top picks in the NFL Draft. I've Mock Draft'd offensive tackle, both high and low. I clamored for Sammy Watkins, but only until Khalil Mack caught my astute eyes. I want Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at #13, but what if a certain wide receiver somehow falls far enough to be taken with their second pick in the first round? The best available player strategy could come into play here, and in this case it would be Watkins, right? I think so, and with how nuts the NFL Draft can get at times, don't be shocked if this scenario - or something similar - plays out. I guess it will come down to how tied Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are to their projected needs list? Free safety is a definite need, and some will say a couple may be available in round two. But I have to keep reminding myself there are other teams - with their own draft strategies - probably thinking the same thing?
With all the noise about the Rams #2 overall pick, I think it's the #13 pick that'll have their fans screaming. Something is going to happen at this pick, the question is: What?