Rams draft: The case for Sammy Watkins

Joshua S. Kelly/Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Rams go into next Thursday’s NFL Draft with a chance to make a splash with the No. 2 overall pick, which they received from Washington as part of the Robert Griffin III trade. But who will they select?

In the days leading up to the draft, we will look at the top options for the Rams — the players general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher figure to be considering with that pick.

First up is Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who just might be the long-awaited perimeter playmaker who gives fans at the Edward Jones Dome flashbacks to the days of the Greatest Show On Turf.

WHY WATKINS?

The Rams of recent vintage are a far cry from the aerial show of the early 2000s. They haven’t even had a 1,000-yard receiver since the Scott Linehan era — two head coaches ago.

That happened way back in 2007, when Torry Holt caught 93 passes for 1,189 yards and was selected for the Pro Bowl.

It has been seven seasons since the Rams ranked in the top half of the league in points scored or offense — something they accomplished in Linehan’s first season in 2006, when they went 8-8.

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Twenty-four NFL players hit that milestone last season, from Cleveland’s Josh Gordon (1,646) to Miami’s Brian Hartline (1,016), and 22 teams could claim one. Denver and Chicago each had two.

Six different players have led the Rams in receiving yardage in each of the past six seasons, and none has topped 800 yards. In fact, only one has had more than 700 yards in a season.

After Holt’s 1,000-yard season, this is what the Rams’ leading receivers have produced:

— 2008: Holt, 796 yards

— 2009: Donnie Avery, 589 yards

— 2010: Danny Amendola, 689 yards

— 2011: Brandon Lloyd, 683 yards

— 2012: Chris Givens, 698 yards

— 2013: Jared Cook (a tight end), 671 yards

What in the name of Isaac Bruce is going on here?

Watkins, a 6-foot-1, 211-pounder, could be the answer.  

Bruce, the franchise’s all-time receiving leader with 14,109 yards, sang his praises in a radio interview on Thursday with Kevin Wheeler of ESPN 101.1 FM in St. Louis.

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"Sammy Watkins is a guy that I’ve watched from his freshman year at Clemson," Bruce told Wheeler. "… There weren’t many players in the country that could really run up and down the field against a Florida State, and Sammy Watkins did that. He did it for three years straight. He was a player to be reckoned with. You could see the growth and you could tell that he was an ascending player.

"If I had the opportunity to take this guy, it would be hard for me to say no because I know this guy is going to be a game-breaker, he’s going to be a difference-maker, something that we could use on our current offense."

Bruce said he believes that even early in Watkins’ NFL career, the receiver will command double teams from opposing defenses, which would open up the field for the Rams’ running game as well as Sam Bradford and his other speedy targets such as Tavon Austin and Chris Givens.

"He’s a guy that you have to account for," Bruce said.

Watkins had a strong three-year career at Clemson, where he caught 240 passes for 3,391 yards, gained 3,730 yards from scrimmage and scored 28 touchdowns.

Even Snead, in a recent interview with FOXSportsMidwest.com, gave Watkins a glowing review.

"Sammy is going to be a difference-maker in this league," Snead said.

WHY NOT WATKINS?

The Rams might choose to fortify an area of greater need, the offensive line.


This draft has two elite offensive tackle prospects in Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, and both players already have connections to the Rams.

Robinson played at Auburn with Fisher’s son, and Snead played his college football at Auburn. Fisher coached Matthews’ father, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, during his years with the Oilers/Titans.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande, who runs the GM Jr Scouting service, offered an interesting view on Watkins in an interview on Thursday.

"The question really is, ‘Is it Watkins or does Evans make more sense?’" he said. "The reality is they don’t have anybody yet that is proven. Even Tavon Austin, who I love. He has yet to show that he can be a good NFL receiver. I don’t know if that’s him or more the coaching.

"I love Watkins. I think he’s a dynamic kid. He may be the most aggressive violent runner with the ball after the catch for a receiver I can remember. He does a great job of getting his shoulders down and everything.

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"The concern I would have if I’m the Rams and taking Watkins is I’m taking another dynamic guy. So this is a guy that, basically, a lot of the stuff we want Austin to do is what (Watkins) is going to do — and we still don’t have that big receiver to take the pressure off our dynamic game-breaker. If that’s the case, does it make sense to really look at a Mike Evans (from Texas A&M) then, who is that big, strong guy, sort of in that Calvin Johnson mold though with size, although he doesn’t have Johnson’s speed? Having a huge guy like that opens things up for a guy like Tavon Austin. Personally, I just wouldn’t take a receiver that high, but they are both, I think, going to be very, very good receivers in the NFL."

FINAL VERDICT

Watkins could be exactly the kind of player the Rams have been missing all these years.

The Rams showed in the second half of last season that they want to run the ball and were effective with Zac Stacy doing it, but the lack of playmakers on the perimeter allowed the best defenses they faced to key on the running game and keep Stacy in check.

Adding a player like Watkins could help them take the next step in the rough and rugged NFC West.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.