Fantasy Impact: Sammy Watkins Traded to the Rams
Sammy Watkins has been traded to the Rams. Let me be clear, this was not an article I thought I’d be writing today. Or ever. It’s one that came with a flurry of other news, but this move has massive fantasy implications. In return for Watkins and their 2018 sixth-round draft pick, the Bills receive cornerback E.J. Gaines, as well as the Rams second-round draft pick in 2018.
The Bills had Watkins on the field for quite a bit in Thursday’s preseason opener, targeting him on the first three pass plays, and five times in total netting four receptions for 39 yards against the Vikings strong secondary. It was confusing as to why they kept him on the field as long as they did, especially when he came up a little gimpy earlier in the week during practice. We now know that they were auditioning his health, which apparently worked.
The Deep Ball
From a fantasy perspective, this is far from ideal for Watkins, who goes from Tyrod Taylor, who can throw the ball a country mile, to Jared Goff, who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn last year. On passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air last year, Goff completed just 4 of 17 passes, while Taylor completed 19 of 58 of them. Goff’s 8.3 completion percentage on deep balls was better than only Blaine Gabbert‘s in 2016.
So Goff doesn’t throw a great deep ball. This is going to naturally limit Watkins’ ceiling in fantasy, as he has relied on the deep ball to produce massive fantasy numbers. Back when he was healthy in 2015, Watkins totaled 606 yards and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled over 20 yards in the air. The yardage ranked second to only Allen Robinson, while his eight touchdowns led the league.
The Forgotten Talent
Now that we’ve established our concerns, are there any positives? Well, Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft for a reason. Most said he was pro-ready and could do almost everything above average. He was considered a clear-cut franchise quarterback. While that obviously didn’t pan out in year-one, he was thrown into a less-than-ideal situation. The Rams offensive line was among the worst in the league and his head coach Jeff Fisher has always run one of the league’s most vanilla offenses. Compared to what Goff was doing at Cal in college, it was a massive change to go through, and then to be thrown into the fire and start for a team that was clearly not a contender.
Reason For Hope?
This offseason, some of those problems have been addressed. The Rams obviously fired Fisher last year, and then brought in the youngest coach of all-time, Sean McVay. During his time as an offensive coordinator with the Redskins, McVay got the most out of Kirk Cousins and the passing game, as they finished top-12 in passing yards each of the three seasons. Even more importantly, they finished top-10 in net-adjusted-yards per pass attempt in each of the seasons as well. This bodes well for Goff and the offense. Not just the addition of McVay, the Rams went out and acquired the top offensive lineman in free agency, left tackle Andrew Whitworth. This is a massive upgrade over the turnstile they had at left tackle last year with Greg Robinson who graded out as PFF’s No. 73 tackle among the 76 who were graded. Whitworth was No. 3 on that same list.
So we’ve now got an upgraded offensive line and an upgrade at head coach, specifically with the passing game. Taking a look at the other talent on the Rams roster, you have recently acquired Robert Woods who also comes from the Bills, rookie Cooper Kupp, and the failed project at wide receiver Tavon Austin. Every single player that was just mentioned fits a slot role and not much else. Watkins is going to be targeted, a lot.
The quality of targets won’t be as good as they were in Buffalo, but it’s likely that he receives a bump in projected targets. As mentioned, McVay’s offense has typically been pass-heavy while ranking in the top 20 for pass attempts every year (even with a combination of Robert Griffin/Colt McCoy/Kirk Cousins in 2014). Even if we stick to the low end of that range (20th), we’re looking at roughly 560 pass attempts. When there is an alpha like Watkins in an offense (he clearly is), they are typically in the 23-27 percent target share range. If that were the case, he’d be looking at anywhere from 128-150 targets. Some may say that Watkins is off their board because of this trade, but you shouldn’t be one of them. He should be drafted as a low-end WR2 who has game-breaking potential. Remember, you’re betting on McVay just as much as you’re betting on Watkins or Goff.
If you’ve missed any of the player profiles that have gone up, I urge you to check them out right here.