Sammy Watkins has been with the Chiefs for a little more than three months, but he's already demonstrating his potential to thrive in Andy Reid's demanding but dynamite offensive system. After , the Chiefs have thrown the gauntlet at Watkins by asking him to move all over the place and challenging his mind.
So far so good, according to Reid, who acknowledged that he has "overloaded" Watkins to this point.
"We're moving him all over the place, and he's handled it," Reid said, per ESPN's Adam Teicher. "We've overloaded him with that. That's how we do it in this offense. That's something new for him. You can tell he's a guy that takes it away from here and studies. When we're doing all these different formations, you've got to do that. You just can't get it all when you're here. You've got to go back and you've got to review, and he's done that and he's really limited the mistakes for all we've given him."
It might be difficult to pick up, but Reid's offense gets results. Reid, who is entering his 20th season as an NFL head coach (14 years with the Eagles and this will be his sixth with the Chiefs), has trotted out a top-10 scoring offense 11 times. In 2017, he turned Alex Smith into the league's highest-rated passer and top-rated deep-ball thrower. Now, , Reid is developing 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes into the franchise's new long-term quarterback. To help Mahomes develop into the kind of quarterback he's shown flashes of being in preseason outings and one regular-season game, Reid brought in Watkins, who is expected to add another dimension to an already explosive offense.
"He made some catches sometimes that I don't know how they're possible," Mahomes said.
On his part, Watkins called mastering Reid's offense "a mental challenge."
"This offense is the broadest offense I've ever been in," Watkins said. "It's definitely a mental challenge. But I think that's what kind of gets me up every day to study the plays and come out here encouraged. Anybody can get the ball and I've got to learn all the positions. I can't just learn one position. I have to be focused and tuned in, in meetings. You have to do that off-the-field work and stay in your [playbook].
"You just get more opportunities on linebackers [and] safeties. It's definitely easier working against a linebacker or getting open against safeties."
Watkins, a former first-round pick of the Bills, hasn't lived up to expectations coming out Clemson due to a variety of factors, with injuries being one of them. In four seasons (three in Buffalo and another with the Rams), Watkins has played in 52 of 64 possible games, catching 192 passes for 3,052 yards and 25 touchdowns. On a per-season basis, those numbers average out to 763 yards and 6.25 touchdowns. So Watkins hasn't been great, but he also hasn't been bad. He's been solid. It's only because of his first-round billing that he's viewed by some as a disappointment.
He's joining an offense, though, that should maximize his talent. If anyone knows how to get the most out of talented playmakers, it's Reid. Just look at how he's used Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce.
"He's a full-speed guy," Watkins said of Reid. "Every day you come out here, every rep, it's full speed. That's just going to help me translate that during the game. He's helped me in this short amount of time with just being a compete receiver, not just being [a receiver who just runs go-routes]. I've got to learn the whole route tree. The standard that he wants ... he's called me out in meetings. That's what you want as a player. I take full advantage of all those things.
"I've never been in an offense like this, around a coach that just feels like he's obsessed with the game and makes you want to be obsessed with it, too, to know more about the offense. The more you break it down the more you can be available and switching different positions."
So, let's set reasonable expectations for him. A year ago, Watkins played in the best offense of his career in Los Angeles with Todd Gurley running the ball, Jared Goff throwing the ball, and of course, Sean McVay calling the plays. Despite the setting, Watkins didn't submit an optimal stat line, catching only 39 passes for only 593 yards. Eight touchdowns salvaged his season.
Setting expectations is difficult because we don't really know how Mahomes will fare in what is essentially his first season. But there's reason to expect Watkins, if he can stay healthy, to see his stat line grow. For all of the improvements Goff made last season, he still wasn't the best deep-ball thrower. Writing for Music City Miracles, John R. Kinsley explained that Goff's accuracy on throws that traveled at least 16 yards in the air was 43.9 percent last season. According to Kinsley, Goff was accurate on six of 20 passes that went 16-plus yards in the air and targeted Watkins.
Meanwhile, in a very small sample size, Mahomes has shown the ability to make incredible throws deep downfield.
It's been a rough day. Take 2 "watch where the WR is when Mahomes releases this ball with a blitzer in his face, as well as where the placement is," and call me in the morning. pic.twitter.com/evpk3TAnWP— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 27, 2018
Had a Broncos fan say "if only the starters were in. lol foh" in response to a Mahomes gif. I never refuse a request @evan_clark22, so here you go. Enough starters out there 3rd play of the game? pic.twitter.com/3JgUZqo8LI— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 5, 2018
Those throws will likely target Watkins in 2018. Again, we don't know if Mahomes will perform on deep passes over the course of an entire season. We don't know if Watkins can stay healthy. And we do know that the Chiefs boast a wide array of weapons, all of which will be incorporated into the offense.
But the Chiefs did not give Watkins a monster contract so that he could be a sporadic home-run threat. Based on the quotes above, we should expect them to keep him involved by moving him around the field, creating mismatches against slower linebackers in the slot, and asking him to do things he hasn't really done in years past.
Watkins is just one reason why the Chiefs are going to trot out one of the most intriguing offenses in the coming season.