Since 2003, only five rookie wide receivers have recorded 1,000-yard seasons (and one of them was Michael Clayton, who went down as such a big outlier, they made a movie about him), so the safe bet is to temper expectations for all rookie wideouts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one won’t make an impact in 2014. Dalton Del Don and Brad Evans are arguing Sammy Watkins versus Mike Evans in the following debate.
Del Don Opens: There’s no question the Bills are run-heavy (they had 37 more rushing attempts than any other team last season and a whopping 225 more carries than the Falcons, who ranked last in the category), but Buffalo traded its No. 9 pick in 2014 and its first and fourth round picks in 2015 to move up five spots to secure Watkins. So this team isn’t going to baby him from the start.
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Watkins recorded 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 13 touchdowns as a 19-year-old during his first year in college and had 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 scores last year (over 13 games). He’s clearly the best rookie WR prospect. In fact, NFL Films guru Greg Cosell calls Watkins the best WR prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
The ability of E.J. Manuel to develop will be huge, but it’s not like Josh McCown is a sure thing. He had an incredible eight-game stretch last season in which he posted an 8.2 YPA with a 13:1 TD:INT ratio, but that was helped by having Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to throw to. Even after McCown’s improbable breakout last year, his career YPA is 6.6 and his career TD:INT ratio is 50:45. He’s 35 years old, while Manuel is 24.
I actually have Watkins just one spot ahead of Evans in my rankings, so I’m not exactly adamant about this debate, but I’ll back the guy who should clearly lead his team in targets compared to one who will be sharing looks next to Vincent Jackson, who had the seventh most targets in the NFL last season.
The Big Noise Closes: My distant cousin generously received the athleticism, speed and size of multiple Evans generations. Putting it to exceptional use at Texas A&M from 2012-2013, he bailed out Johnny Manziel on several occasions, padding the party animal’s bottom line. During his brief stint at College Station, the ex-high school basketball standout compiled 151 receptions, 2,499 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and 17 touchdowns in 26 games.
His incredible length, ball adjustment skills and leaping ability will make him a matchup nightmare for any defensive back in the league. He and Vincent Jackson could quickly develop into the nastiest downfield combo around, possibly dethroning Julio Jones/Roddy White and Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery for that honor. Tampa offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford promises to be vertically aggressive. And why not? Josh McCown, who played brilliantly last season in a similar situation with the Bears, probably feels like a kid in a candy store. With all that in mind it’s conceivable Evans delivers a 65-850-8 line right away finishing just inside the WR top-30.
As a player, I absolutely love Sammy Watkins. He’s explosive, a beast after the catch and ultra-versatile. However, his quarterback, E.J. Manuel, couldn’t hit the Incredible Hulk from 10 yards out. Granted it was a brief appearance in the first exhibition game of the year, but Manuel overthrew Watkins badly on a go route and had a couple passes knocked down at or near the line of scrimmage. Accuracy is a problem. Toss in Buffalo’s conservative approach, and it’s a stretch to think Watkins emerges as a reliable WR3 this year. His rising price tag (His 75.5 ADP on Fantasy Calculator is up from the low 100s three weeks ago) leaves little room for profit.
Brandin Cooks is my pick for ROY honors at WR, but Evans will do plenty to earn votes.