Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins was an amazing downfield threat in 2015, that we know.
During the offseason, he was named “the king” of a Pro Football Focus study.
Tyler Loechner of PFF analyzed the impact of average depth of target (aDOT) on wide receiver catch rate from 2007 to 2015, and Watkins was, as Loechner put it, “the king of the study.”
As a whole, there was almost a direct correlation between aDOT and catch percentage. For you math enthusiasts, it had a r-squared of 0.975.
Why was Watkins the “king of the study?” Last year, he finished significantly above his “expected catch rate” based on his high aDOT of 18.3 yards.
Here’s what Loechner wrote: “Watkins’ expected catch rate last season was 49.1 percent. However, his QB-adjusted catch rate was 66.5 percent. This meant Watkins caught 26.2 percent more passes than expected.”
According to Loechner’s graph, Watkins’ 66.5 percent catch rate was expected if he averaged slightly less than nine yards per target, an incredibly low number for any wideout.
This is a telling, advanced figure that demonstrates how the Bills wideout truly emerged as, arguably, the most dynamic downfield threat in the NFL during his second professional season.
Watkins’ seismic explosion, most namely on deep passes, suggests he clearly transitioned faster than many expected.
After a dazzling three-year career at Clemson, the general consensus on Watkins centered around him immediately being a bubble-screen and short-passing game monster in the NFL but that the intricacies of pro routes would lengthen his learning curve at the intermediate and deep levels of the field.
When Watkins was a highly coveted prospect in 2014, Greg Peshek of Rotoworld published a comprehensive study on the top receivers in that draft class.
He found that 57.43% of Watkins catches in his final year with the Tigers were screens, more than 30% higher than the national average. That’s an insane disparity.
Also, Watkins led the 2014 wideout class with a whopping 8.48 yards-after-the-catch average, despite 70% of his receptions coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Lastly, Peshak discovered Watkins ran a “go route” just 15.79% of the time, the lowest percentage in his traditional route tree.
All the film-based numbers indicated that Watkins would enter the league as a screen dynamo, and his effectiveness down the field would come later in this career.
In that amazingly bubble-screen heavy Clemson offense of 2013, he had 101 grabs for 1,464 yards with 12 touchdowns.
If anything, through two seasons and 222 NFL targets, Watkins has proven to be fully capable of executing “pro WR duties,” and we’ve seen him utilized the least in the easier-to-grasp screen game with which he’s familiar.
Now, as an established downfield weapon, Watkins will likely see more soft coverage and rolled safeties over the top in 2016.
So is this the year the Bills star pass-catcher is frequently used and ultimately thrives in the screen game?