Watkins' style may not translate to NFL

May, 15, 2014
May 15
1:00
PM ET
Earlier Thursday, we passed along grades from third-party analytics website Pro Football Focus, which deemed Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel a "poor" starter based on his play last season.

Another major football analytics site, Football Outsiders, has hang-ups about Manuel's newest receiver, Sammy Watkins. The Bills traded up to select Watkins fourth overall last week, but Football Outsiders assistant editor Scott Kacsmar believes Watkins' success at the college level may not translateInsider to the NFL.

Here's what Kacsmar writes on Watkins:
To spend a top-five pick (and then some) on a wide receiver, he'd better be a special player. Watkins is not the type of athletic freak like Calvin Johnson capable of catching a jump ball in triple coverage, but who is? Watkins is not as polished with his route running or sure-handedness as Torry Holt or Larry Fitzgerald. Watkins is not an all-around threat like A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Those are most of the receivers who were worth a top pick.

Watkins gained 71.3 percent of his receiving yards after the catch at Clemson, numbers that Kascmar says compare to receivers like Tavon Austin or Percy Harvin -- talented in the short game and after the catch, but not necessarily big-play threats.

At the Bills' pre-draft news conference last month, player personnel director Jim Monos was asked how Watkins compared to elite NFL receivers like Jones or Green and also made the tie-in to Harvin.

"Those guys were bigger, height-wise. Talent-wise, he’s on par with them," Monos said. "His style is more like Percy Harvin, with the ball in his hands, he’s special like that. Those guys were just so big, but yeah he’s right on par with those guys."

Kacsmar believes the deficiencies of the Bills' passing offense last season (Buffalo ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories) would have been better addressed by selecting Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

Kacsmar's underlying argument isn't that Watkins will flop at the NFL, but that the Bills paid too high a price to acquire him:
This is why Buffalo continues to miss the postseason. Big resources are used on players who turn out to be adequate, but not great. Watkins and Manuel have to make each other great, but it's going to take much more than dozens of bubble screens to get there in the NFL.

The Bills have plenty of reason to be excited about acquiring Watkins, but digesting an outside, national perspective -- like Kascmar's take, in this case -- can also be healthy.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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