The Los Angeles Rams offense has undergone a complete 180 from where they were in 2016.
There are three major factors that come into play, from a new head coach and his staff along with new personnel and a scheme that helps the existing personnel from the previous regime. A big (and underrated) factor among the new personnel, for my money? WR Sammy Watkins.
The Rams originally traded for contract-year WR Sammy Watkins in the middle of August, sending CB E.J. Gaines and a 2018 NFL Draft 2nd-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for Watkins and a 2018 6th-round pick. The trade made sense for both teams at the time, though I certainly liked it from the Rams’ perspective. The Rams acquired a great weapon to help fix the worst offense in football, and the Bills got a solid zone corner in Gaines as well as a high draft pick for a player they likely weren’t going to bring back.
With all that in hindsight, let’s take a look at where Watkins helps the Rams offense. We’ll break his impact down into four categories: short passing game, intermediate, deep, and miscellaneous - being blocking/scheme and everything that remains. Let’s dive into it!
Short Passing Game
Here’s a clip from Week 1 vs the Indianapolis Colts. Watkins is lined up out-wide on an island (like usual), and the Rams have clearly implemented a play to help QB Jared Goff get in a quick rhythm. Watkins gives the CB a jab-step outside to create a quick and seamless release where he is untouched. Watkins catches the pass on the quick slant for an easy 12-yards:
This time, in the same game, Watkins takes the outside release, using his well-known reputation as a dangerous deep weapon and suddenness to stop on a dime on the hook, once again playing an easy game of pitch and catch with Goff:
Sammy Watkins is also a valuable weapon in the screen game with his valuable ability to gain YAC. Now, notably, he gets a ton of help here from LT Andrew Whitworth who steamrolls two Houston Texans defenders, and all Watkins has to do is follow his personal bodyguard into the endzone.
Here, Sammy is lined up as the lead WR in a trips formation with Kupp and Robert Woods behind him. Lets take a look at the play:
His ability to gain YAC is very understated, and his nose for the endzone on this play is superb. He’s right in the heart of the San Francisco 49ers defense and still fights his way in for a touchdown.
Intermediate Passing Game
Like they often do, the Rams have Sammy Watkins in a stack formation with Cooper Kupp. I believe the reasoning behind this to be that Watkins has such a good release off the LOS, he allows the receiver behind (Kupp in this case) to have a much easier release where a CB cannot jam them. Watkins takes the outside release, getting enough depth to get behind the underneath zone CB but not too much where the Safety can make a play, and makes an easy catch in the middle of the field for a big gain.
The strength of the Rams offense relies on their ability to run the ball effectively. With that being the case, play action plays have been very successful for the Rams the entire season. In this instance, Goff sells a hard PA fake to Todd Gurley, sucking up all the Saints LB’s opening a big gap in the middle of the field. Sammy Watkins effectively sets the CB up with an outside jab-step to allow the inside release, and effectively creates separation on the dig route for an easy completion.
With his penchant for running deep (and typically beating CB’s deep), Rashard Robinson bails at the snap. With Higbee hitting the flat on the right side, he drags a LB with him in coverage opening a big gap in the defense. Watkins finds himself running free on his dig, and Goff effectively finds the gap created by the Higbee/Watkins route combo for a relatively simple completion.
Deep Passing Game
With 50-seconds left in the half, I can’t for the life of me understand why the New Orleans Saints are deploying a single-high safety look, especially with two starting CB’s missing. Nevertheless, Watkins takes advantage. With the CB draped on him, he extends his arms and bobbles the ball, but eventually secures the catch, also getting out of bounds.
Sammy Watkins game is predicated off his terrific ability to stretch the field vertically. Here vs a veteran CB in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Sammy Watkins takes the outside release on his vertical, and creates instant separation. His ability to separate shortly after his release, coupled with his deep speed, is what makes him such a terrifying receiver. Unfortunately, Goff could not connect with Watkins on this play, but it goes to show his ability to get deep is as good as any other WR in the league.
This play was arguably Sammy’s most impressive as a Ram thus far. He actually takes the inside release here, rounding out towards the sidelines as he continues his route. Once again creating instant separation, Watkins makes an incredible catch tracking the ball from his inside to outside shoulder. Take a look:
Now that we’ve seen Watkins contribute in every facet of the receiving department, lets take a look at how he affects the rest of the receivers.
As you can see in multiple clips here, Watkins typically lines up at the “X” receiver spot. Your best WR typically lines up there because 1) it’s harder to play outside as opposed to inside, 2) allows a CB to get right up into your face and jam you, and 3) means that Watkins will more often than not line up against the defense’s best CB. If he’s not lined up solo, he can typically be found as the front WR in a stack or trips formation. Why? Because his release is great, and it allows the remaining receivers behind to get off the LOS with a free release. Like this play with Cooper Kupp:
The Rams often deploy this duo, allowing Kupp to jump right into his route, squaring the CB up, and breaking him down with his terrific route running ability.
Watkins is also a very good blocker. I presume some of his blocking prowess is because of playing with LeSean McCoy. Often McCoy would look dead-to-rights with a defender, though he would Houdini his way out of tackle attempts allowing him to potentially take any run to the house at any time. I sense this theme because Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods were/are both very good blocking WR’s, and clearly give a lot of effort in that department.
Take a look at the blocking effort to steamroll one defender, then get enough of a block on Eli Apple to help spring Robert Woods for a 52-yard TD on 3rd and very long.
“Is Sammy Watkins worth re-signing? Was he worth the trade?”
I tried to lay out what Watkins’ value is in every aspect here to help us realize what kind of true impact Watkins offers for the Rams offense. It goes much deeper than the numbers suggest.
I’m sure Sean McVay and Les Snead are in agreement.