Via the "Madden" video game.
"At that time, they had the best wide receivers and Drew Blesdoe," Watkins told Shutdown Corner. "They could run the ball, too, with Travis Henry. They had the best wide receivers, [one of] the best running backs. They could do everything offensively and I have always been an offensive guy.
"That was a team that I always liked growing up, and they were red, white and blue, so how could I not like them?"
That was the early 2000s. A decade later, Watkins is a member of the Bills, and he could see history repeat itself. Bledsoe ran an up-tempo passing game throwing to Eric Moulds, Peerless Price and Josh Reed, with Henry handling the lion's share of the running. A decade before that, the Bill's "K-Gun" offense moved even faster — Jim Kelly had Andre Reed and James Lofton at wide receiver, and the running prowess of Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis.
Might Watkins help spearhead another fast-pace, multi-faceted Bills offense that looks to get defenses back on their heels and become one of the more diverse units in the NFL? That's the rookie wide receiver's sincere expectation.
"Our goal is to go fast, run a lot of plays, and go as quickly as possible," Watkins said by phone on Monday. "We’re going to throw the ball. But I can get it in other ways, and we’re going to run it well, too. We’ve been working a lot on third downs in OTAs. We know we have to convert those in order to be a great team and a complete [offense]. We know we can do it. It all there for us."
The Bills are banking on it, and they are invested heavily in Watkins, even mortgaging assets in 2015 to land him. In order to move up five spots in the draft to get Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick, the Bills had to forfeit first- and fourth-round picks. They hedged a bit later by accruing other picks in separate deals, but their intentions were clear: They believe Watkins can help transform their offense.
Watkins, however, said he does not feel any additional pressure despite the hefty price his team paid to land him, or in replacing No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson, who was traded away to the San Francisco 49ers in one of those other deals.
"No pressure. We already have many guys experienced here," he said. "I just have to be prepared and ready to play early.
"We’re not just going to come in and turn it on. We know we’ve got a long season ahead. If I perform the way I expect to perform, I think we’ll be OK. That’s all I care about, that and winning."
The Bills were given a gift that some teams might not normally appreciate. Playing in the preseason-opening Hall of Fame game, giving them five preseason games, might allow the team the extra on-field work it needs to come together. Even though the Bills broke out the up-tempo offense a year ago, they've gone through a bit of a reset phase, personnel-wise, since then.
Watkins is a rookie. Fellow receiver Robert Woods is in his second season. New acquisition Mike Williams is coming over from Tampa Bay. Quarterback EJ Manuel started only nine games as a rookie. There could be two new starting offensive linemen, depending on how the rookies play. The Bills started working with a fast pace last season but had to slow down after Manuel re-entered the lineup. Getting everyone on the same page offensively will continue to be a work in progress.
Watkins sees the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 3 against the New York Giants as an additional chance to hone his team's rhythm. He also sees it as a measuring stick of sorts against fellow rookie Odell Beckham, whom the Giants took as the second wide receiver drafted and with whom Watkins has a healthy rivalry. And there's also the bonus of seeing first-hand a terrific tribute to Reed, who will have been inducted into Canton the night before.
Watkins first met Reed in Los Angeles before the Bills drafted him, and the two since have reconnected at the Jim Kelly Celebrity Classic golf tournament a few weeks ago.
"We've exchanged numbers," Watkins said of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer. "We always have fun when we talk.
"We want to honor him by playing well [in the game]. We want to let people know we are a different team now."
Watkins stands 6-feet-1, 200 pounds; Reed was a sleek 6-2, 190 pounds. Watkins can be used in a variety of ways, including on kick returns, which he has been used on in OTAs; Reed had 75 rushing attempts in his first 13 seasons, was used as a punt returner early in his career and even threw a 32-yard TD pass in his 10th season.
Watkins has fully digested the Bills' playbook and feels he has a good idea how offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett and head coach Doug Marrone plan to use him this season. Although Watkins wouldn't say, as rumored, that the Bills could adapt some of Clemson's spread and wing-T concepts that moved him into (or motioned him out of) the backfield at times, he did say he feels that he can absorb and execute everything that will be asked of him.
"I’ll be used many ways in this offense. We don’t have a traditional X, Y and Z [positions]," Watkins said. "We won’t really switch sides of the field. We’ll just go fast. When you break down this offense, you can’t really focus on one position. I’ve been breaking it down, learning all the spots so I can be ready for everything. It’s been way easier that way, breaking it down. It’s easier to understand and absorb the concepts. The coaches and my teammates have been helping me out a lot."
Watkins and Manuel have been working on their timing and rapport, and Watkins — who was recruited to Florida State and who played the Seminoles in each of his three seasons at Clemson — knows what his new quarterback is capable of. The one time Watkins and Manuel met on the field, in 2012, Manuel threw for a then-career-high 380 yards (on 27 of 35 passes) and rushed for an additional 102 to become the first Seminoles QB to reach the 300-100 mark since Charlie Ward in 1992. The 'Noles ran 76 plays in a 49-37 victory in which they trailed by two touchdowns.
"He's a physical guy that can control the game. A guy that can keep his poise throughout the game," Watkins said of Manuel. "You watched him bring his team back in that fourth quarter, you knew he had leadership and that poise. You can't be at that program and not stand up to that [pressure]."
Watkins said Manuel is doing his best to integrate his new teammate and target to life as a pro, but neither one wants to push things too hard too soon.
"He's always checking in on me," Watkins said. "He was a rookie not long ago, so he knows. I am not pushing the process; I am not pushing anything too hard right now. At the end of the day, this is a game and you have to have fun. You can't be too hard on yourself. He's telling me not to rush the process."
So Watkins isn't. He knows he plays at the Carolina Panthers in the preseason and at the Miami Dolphins in the regular season, with both games likely to be heavily populated by Watkins' nearby fan bases from college and high school, respectively, but isn't worried about either one. He knows he'll likely get to face one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in New England Patriots' Darrelle Revis but can't get too worried about that.
Watkins' approach: one day at a time.
"When the time comes to start thinking about those individual things, I'll do it," he said. "But right now, I am worried about the next challenge, the one that's right in front of me."
He still has some offseason workouts and training camp in front of him, but Watkins is also allowing himself to look ahead ever so slightly and get excited about the Hall of Fame game. Because, after all, it'll be his first — and it's the place that several great players, including Tom Brady, Hines Ward and Marvin Harrison, made their NFL debuts.
"I think it's huge to be there," Watkins said. "I can't wait to play in it."
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