Sammy Watkins started his NFL career on an All-Pro trajectory with the Bills before a series of debilitating foot injuries wiped out his superstar potential.
His 2015 pre-injury campaign remains incredible — at 22 years old he amassed 1,047 receiving yards in just 13 games. That production came with Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel throwing him passes.
Two years later, Watkins felt mentally lost and unhappy with the Bills. He later said he would drink often during the season. Setbacks to surgery on his fractured left foot demoralized him. Escaping Buffalo via trade to the Rams before the 2017 campaign helped him refocus and find a steady playmaking role he might not have captured moping in upstate New York.
“At that point in my life I didn’t want to be there,” Watkins said, “and somehow, miraculously, I get traded like the next week and go to another team that’s pretty good.”
Last year, Watkins racked up 673 receiving yards, his most since 2015, and made a signature catch in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the 49ers. He might not be one of the best pass-catchers in the league, but he’s become a valuable asset for a prolific offense.
Watkins won’t play Sunday against Buffalo because of pain in his hamstring. He still hasn’t faced the Bills following his departure. He no longer needs to prove he’s better off without them, though, as his mere presence on an NFL field in 2020 is something many people doubted would happen when he was at his lowest point.
Substantial pressure accompanies a top-10 NFL draft selection as a wide receiver, especially when the player joins an offense that had finished 20th or worse in scoring in eight of the previous nine years.
The record should show Watkins had the talent to meet his lofty expectations if his body held up, regardless of the personal turmoil he might have experienced in Buffalo. Even now, as a shell of his former self, the Clemson product goes bonkers a couple of times each season. It’s week-to-week consistency in a physically draining sport that keeps him below the top couple of tiers at his position.
Here’s a list of the lower-body injuries Watkins has experienced, courtesy of SIP:
- Hip tear (required surgery)
- Groin pull
- Hamstring pull (several times)
- Calf strain
- Glute strain
- Left foot fracture (required multiple surgeries)
- Right foot injury (unspecified, several setbacks)
As Watkins observes his former team take on his current team Sunday from the sideline, he can be content with the progression of his career. He’s been hobbled but not shut out by football’s ruthless nature. He’ll probably make another playoff appearance in a few months.
Buffalo’s offense is finally at a point where it doesn’t need to dwell on the past, either. The Bills recently acquired Stefon Diggs to command their top receiving role in a way no has since Watkins dominated opposing secondaries in 2015. Diggs was miserable in Minnesota; so far he’s flourished in Buffalo.
Moving forward, then, neither Watkins nor the Bills need to worry much about each other. They’re finally both good enough for their mutual dislike to reach irrelevance.