The Kansas City Chiefs were set to embark on their Super Bowl title defense when Sammy Watkins received one of his premonitions.
He still can’t fully describe it. But at the time — six months after catching seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the AFC championship game, and his five-catch, 98-yard effort in Super Bowl 54 — Watkins had a sense that the 2020 season would be his last in Kansas City. He was at peace with that realization. Because he also had an idea of where he would wind up after aiming to help Kansas City repeat as champs.
“I knew a year before. I told my wife, ‘I’m going to the Ravens,’” Watkins told USA TODAY Sports with a smile on Wednesday following his first training camp practice in Baltimore.
“I don't know how I knew. But I could feel, 'Time for a new experience. New team.' And a lot of stuff led up to me saying, 'Damn. I'm going to be in Baltimore!' And I made my decisions based on the things going on around me and I was seeing. Now, I'm here and I can't wait to see what we can do.”
Call them prophecies or intuitions, but they’re nothing new for Watkins. He often envisions things playing out ahead of time. So, when he got to Baltimore, going from one elite AFC team to another, he felt a sense of comfort.
“It was like, ‘Aaaah! I’m back in my element,’” Watkins said.
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Watkins has had only a handful of spring practices with his new team, and training camp just kicked off on Wednesday with franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson on the COVID-19 reserve list after a positive test. But Watkins said he already has seen and felt enough to know something special lies ahead.
An unwavering confidence in his own abilities, as well as those of his new quarterback and coaches, fuels Watkins’ belief that he’s on the verge of producing one of the finest seasons of his seven-year career.
The Ravens certainly hope that’s the case for the talented yet well-traveled wide receiver.
Baltimore represents team No. 4 for the Clemson product and fourth overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
But everywhere he has played, Watkins has produced while helping his team achieve a new level of success. His arrival in Buffalo helped the team post its first winning campaign in 10 years. Traded to the Rams after three seasons, Watkins helped end a 13-year playoff drought. A free-agent signing in Kansas City a year later, Watkins carved out a role on a prolific offense and helped the Chiefs win their first Super Bowl in 50 years and then return to last year's title game, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now, he’s starting over again in Baltimore, where he’ll be counted on to provide play-making ability, versatility and veteran leadership that could help take the Ravens to a championship level.
“I can honestly say that everywhere I’ve been at, that team has success and wins games,” Watkins said. “I’ve got God moving through me, so whatever path and journey he’s got me on, that’s what I do and I can’t wait to see what happens this year.”
Watkins figures to fill a significant need for Baltimore.
For as electrifying a dual threat as Jackson is, the 2019 league MVP has always lacked a true No. 1 receiver capable of both moving the chains and consistently stretching the field.
Third-year pro Marquise Brown has recorded seven touchdown catches in each of the last two seasons while serving primarily as a deep threat. But he remains in the developmental stages as an all-around receiver. As a whole, a combination of a lack of size and experience at wide receiver has limited Baltimore’s offense.
Enter the 6-1, 211-pound Watkins, who remains a speedy, physical threat with a championship pedigree. His style of play should suit Baltimore well, particularly against opposing AFC North defenses, and Watkins’ knowledge already has helped his younger new teammates.
“Experience and versatility. He’s a pro. He’s been there before,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Watkins. “He’s a fourth pick in the draft. He’s a talented guy. He loves ball. He has lot of insight for those guys.
"The other thing is his competitiveness. Play-to-play competitiveness, his size. He’s a physical guy. I think he’s excited about the program here in terms of work ethic.”
The excitement exhibited by Watkins is something that others also have noted based on how quickly he immersed himself in the locker room, taking on a mentorship role for young receivers and his effort both in the weight room and on the field.
Watkins made an early impression on Jackson after the spring, prompting the quarterback to say, “Sammy's going to make our job a lot easier, open up one side of the field more, his deep ball ability, shiftiness and route running. He's a great receiver.”
But Watkins believes that it’s actually Jackson who will make his job easier.
“It’s not me. It’s really what Lamar brings to the table. Whatever Pat Mahomes and all those other (elite) quarterbacks do, he’s doing the same thing,” Watkins said. “It’s Lamar Jackson. He runs and throws and does whatever he wants as a quarterback, and you can’t run certain defenses on him. You can’t do certain things on Cover 2. You can’t run just zone. You’ve got to do some blitzing, you’ve got to do some awkward things, and then you’ve got myself, Marquise Brown, (Mark) Andrews, (Devin) Duvernay, so many guys that can make plays, and then (offensive coordinator Greg) Roman has the run game going. So, it’s going to be kind of the same situation like K.C., just different guys. It’s a lot of freedom.”
Watkins, who has the ability to play all three receiver positions, says he simply has to stay healthy and play his role, and opportunities and production will come. He has goals of putting up career numbers of 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Durability issues have persisted as the one knock against Watkins during his career. Only once – his rookie year – has he played a full 16-game slate, and on average he has appeared in 12 contests per season.
The Ravens’ strength coaches have introduced some training methods and preventative measures new to Watkins that give him optimism that his durability could improve this year.
But Watkins said his goal is to “be who I’ve always been. That’s stay positive and work your ass off, understand this is football. It’s 100% contact sport, and all I can do is try my best to stay on the field and stay as healthy as I can.”
After helping one MVP quarterback win his first Super Bowl, Watkins’ top priority is to now do the same for Jackson.
“It’s been a blessing to go from quarterback to quarterback and know that I’ve had some great quarterbacks where I can go out and do my job and catch the ball and score touchdowns,” he said. “I’m chasing another ring, but I’m not just doing it for me. I’m carrying my energy, but I want it to work for everybody. That’s the biggest thing most guys don’t understand. We’ve got to be unselfish here, and if we do that, we could win a ring. We could win two. You never know.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sammy Watkins envisioned leaving Chiefs for Ravens a year ago