If it wasn’t bad enough that the Jets have a beat-up secondary, now they face the most exciting wide receiver to come out of college in years.
First-round pick Sammy Watkins is the prize building block of the resurgent Bills, but he is more than just a piece for the future. Watkins is already contributing to the Bills, and showing little sign of the steep rookie learning curve that plagues many wide receivers.
“I’m not aware of the wall; I haven’t hit it yet,” Watkins said. “I got a great group of guys that keep me up, they don’t put too much pressure on me and they do a great job of putting me in the best situations. For me, it’s just to keep doing the things I’ve been doing — keep staying healthy, keep staying in my books and keep having passion for the game.”
He isn’t doing it alone. The Bills upgraded at the quarterback position earlier this month, even though the move was scoffed at initially.
Watkins has put together several solid performances since the Bills benched second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel three weeks ago in favor of veteran Kyle Orton.
During that stretch, Watkins has 18 catches for 236 yards and two touchdowns — both of which came last week in a win over the Vikings. His route-running has been good and he’s benefitted from having a veteran with strong accuracy in the pocket.
“He’s been everything as far as his work ethic and how he goes about his business and things like that. I think he’s done a very, very good job of that,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said of Watkins. “I think he’s still very young in his career, and things change for him. He’s seeing different things week to week and he’s just a player that’s progressing.”
He had to overcome injuries in college, but the potential was always there for Watkins. He made big plays repeatedly at Clemson, where Seth Ryan, the son of Jets head coach Rex Ryan, plays his college football as a preferred walk-on. The Jets are more than familiar with what Watkins can do on the field.
Given Ryan’s proximity to the Clemson program, he’s had the chance to see Watkins in person as an underclassman, including at a spring practice a couple years ago with general manager John Idzik and senior personnel executive Terry Bradway.
“We were standing there, I was with Terry and John, and we went out there and they must’ve thrown 50 vertical balls, to where you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ And it was him on one side — they couldn’t cover him,” Ryan said. “He was as a freshman, I think he was a first-team All-American as a true freshman, so I knew about him, but then when you see him, it’s like,‘OK.’He also practices hard, he does all that type of stuff, so he was impressive to say the least.”
For now, Watkins said he’s adjusting to all the down time in the NFL without the structure of college classes and study periods. On the field, he continues to develop for the Bills.
“It’s all basics,” Watkins said. “You have to come out of your routes, you have to be physical off the ball, you really just have to stick to the game plan and know what you’re good at and keep working on your weaknesses.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.