Clemson’s Sammy Watkins has gained separation. Scouts regard him as the top receiver in a strong class of receivers that includes Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.
“Sammy Watkins is what you want,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “I’m not usually a big proponent of top-10 wide receivers, but this kid, he runs fast, he catches the football, he’s explosive, and what’s my favorite thing about him is he has a chip on his shoulder. He has more toughness than most wide receivers have. I think he’s a franchise wide receiver.”
Watkins will give Clemson back-to-back drafts with first-round receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins, Watkins’ mentor and former sidekick, was the 27th overall pick of the Houston Texans last year. Hopkins had 52 catches for 802 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
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“He taught me the ropes,” Watkins said. “That’s who I try to imitate my game like as far as catching the ball, being physical, being that dominant receiver. Over the years, he definitely helped me [become] who I am today.”
Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, finishing his career with 240 receptions for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. He owns 23 school records.
At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Watkins isn’t as big as NFL teams want for a No. 1 receiver. But he has the speed (4.43) and all the other intangibles to make him a top-10 pick who could go as high as No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams.
“I think I can do just about anything on the field from wide receiver to running back to slot,” Watkins said. “I can make plays all over the field. What I love doing is dominating defenses. I think that’s what I bring to the game, and I think that’s going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL, I think I can be that dominant receiver.”
The position is the strength of this draft. There is star power at the top with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans with depth thereafter. This draft could have as many as 12 receivers selected in the first two rounds, which would break the record of 11. NFL teams select an average of 33 receivers each draft. There could be as many as 42 go this year.
Dez Bryant became the receiver the Cowboys thought they were getting when they made him a first-round pick in 2010. He caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in earning his first Pro Bowl invitation. Dallas selected Terrance Williams in the third round last year, with plans to groom him eventually to start opposite Bryant. That time is now. After Williams caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns, the Cowboys felt comfortable in releasing Miles Austin. Austin finished an injury-plagued season with only 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns, too little production for the $3.6 million he counted against the cap last year. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley are among the players competing for more playing time in the wake of Austin’s release, and Dallas is expected to add a receiver in the draft.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson, 6-1, 211, 4.43. He owns 23 school records, finishing last season with 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M, 6-5, 231, 4.53. Among his five 100-yard games last season, he torched Alabama for 279 yards and a touchdown.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 5-10, 189, 4.33. He set single-season Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards.
Marqise Lee, USC, 6-0, 192, 4.52. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 but missed three games with a knee injury in 2013.
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU, 5-11, 198, 4.43. He broke the school’s single-season all-purpose yardage record with 2,315 total yards.
Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley, 6-3, 219, 4.42. He made 37 starts and produced back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons.
Top Texas ties
Josh Huff, Oregon, 5-11, 206, 4.51. The Houston Nimitz product, projected as a fourth-rounder, set single-season school records with 1,140 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
Mike Davis, Texas, 6-0, 197, 4.52. A fourth- or fifth-rounder, he left UT ranked fourth in school history in catches (200) and receiving yards (2,753).
Ryan Grant, Tulane, 6-0, 199, 4.64. The Beaumont West Brook product, projected as a fifth-rounder, caught 153 passes for 2,188 yards and six touchdowns his final two years after sports hernia surgery.
Austin Franklin, New Mexico State, 5-11, 189, 4.56. A possible seventh-round pick, the Dallas Kimball product played in 33 games in college with 160 catches for 2,439 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from CBS Sportsline.
Thursday-May 10, Radio City Music Hall, New York
TV: Round 1, 7 p.m. Thursday, NFL Network, ESPN. Rounds 2-3, 5:30 p.m. May 9, NFL Network, ESPN. Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m., May 10, NFL Network, ESPN.
2. St. Louis (from Washington)
7. Tampa Bay
12. NY Giants
13. St. Louis
18. NY Jets
21. Green Bay
23. Kansas City
25. San Diego
26. Cleveland (from Indianapolis)
27. New Orleans
29. New England
30. San Francisco