NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – One of the biggest shockers of 2012 was the on-the-field decline of the precocious, focused and supremely talented Sammy Watkins.
Watkins saw his yards (1,219 to 708), yards per catch (14.9 to 12.4) and receiving touchdowns (12 to 3) all decline from his freshman All-American campaign.
We know Watkins was set back by his suspension and illness. But did Clemson’s play-calling also became too predictable?
I thought we were going to see much more creativity with Watkins in 2012. Remember, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris traveled to Oklahoma State back in the spring to better understand how the Cowboys were able to get the ball to star receiver Justin Blackmon in 2011 so efficiently despite that everyone in the stadium knew they were trying to get the ball to Blackmon.
I expected to see a lot of creativity with Watkins. He wasn’t going to be a surprise to any defense in 2012. I expected to see him deployed on routes all over the field, in a variety of different formations. Instead, Watkins was often times a one-dimensional player in 2012.
Consider these stats from friend of the program Marty Coleman, who runs the Web site SeledonUsedReserve.com:
*41 percent of passed targeted for Watkins were thrown to him behind the line of scrimmage. Yes, Watkins has elite short-area quickness, and these are de facto running plays, but defenses surely picked up on this and adjusted their scheme.
*The average pass targeted for Watkins was thrown just 9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This for a player with sub 4.4 second speed in the 40-yard dash. In essence, Watkins’ was the college version of Wes Welker or Percy Harvin, Mr. Short Passing Game Extraordinaire.
*Even Jaron Brown, who is not an electric threat, was targeted down field, on average (13 yards), further than Watkins.
*DeAndre Hopkins was targeted, on average, 14.1 yard down field. Hopkins was only thrown to at or behind on the line of scrimmage on nine percent of his targets.
*Martavis Bryant was one-dimensional in a different way, with average passes being targeted for him 23 yards down the field.
Now, Hopkins and Watkins are different receivers so it makes sense that they are deployed differently. Hopkins has superior body control and hands. He’s improved as a route runner. Watkins is more explosive and is a threat to take a short pass a long ways.
But even a pitcher with an overpowering fastball can’t simply rely on one pitch. Every pitchers needs at least one quality offspeed offering to keep batters off-balance, and so does every receiver.
Watkins has blazing top-end speed, he was a 100-meter state track champion in Florida. I’m surprised we didn’t see him used more down the field, this season.
Now maybe it’s because he was never 100 percent.
Maybe it’s because he was with the scout team in late early August and early September due to his suspension and Morris was never able to be as creative as he wanted to be, Maybe Morris was never able to implement what he learned from his travels to Oklahoma State.
Maybe Watkins did not develop his routes well enough. He did seem to struggle to track and win 50-50 balls downfield. Maybe Morris lacked confidence in his down-field ability.
But I’m surprised Watkins was so two-dimensional – short pass, short pass, short pass, occasional deep shot – in 2012.
Watkins hinted this will change in 2013.
When Morris told the team he was staying on Thursday he also told Watkins, privately, what he had in store for him in 2013.
“He talked about his plans (for me) next season,” Watkins said.
And I’d be surprised if it’s not a more diversified portfolio.