A new era of Bears football begins in 2018 with Matt Nagy leading the way as the 16th head coach in franchise history. But for Nagy to succeed, he’ll need an injection of talent at various positions across the field – free agency is one such avenue for that improvement.
So let’s take a look at some of the more promising available players, to see if there might be a fit with the Chicago Bears.
Player, Age (in 2018), Position
Sammy Watkins, 25, wide receiver
Season stats: 15 games (14 starts), 39 catches, 593 yards, eight touchdowns, 15.2 yards per catch
Pro Football Focus grade: 76.2, 41st among 116 qualifying receivers
How you feel about Watkins’ 2017 season varies depending on your point of view. He came away with just 39 catches and gained only 593 receiving yards, which are less-than-stellar numbers considering his past production and seemingly limitless potential. But he caught eight touchdowns and his presence helped improve the Los Angeles Rams’ group of receivers. That Jared Goff posted a 116.0 passer rating and 8-to-1 TD-INT ratio when targeting Watkins speaks volumes of what he meant (or, even, could have meant) to that passing offense.
And then there’s this from PFF, dissecting Watkins’ most successful routes:
Sammy Watkins' most successful routes this past season! pic.twitter.com/aYpvdGQWbd
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 26, 2018
The raw reception-yards numbers aren’t great, but it’s fair to suggest those numbers would tick up if he was a team’s top target.
Performance Before 2017
Stats: 37 games (37 starts), 153 catches, 2,459 yards, 17 touchdowns, 16.1 yards per catch
Per 16-game average: 66 catches, 1,063 yards, 7 touchdowns
Pro Football Focus grades: 76.8 (2016), 87.5 (2015), 72.3 (2014)
Most of Watkins’ production came in his first two seasons with the Bills, when he started 29 of 32 possible games, caught 125 passes, gained 2,029 yards, and scored 15 touchdowns. Those are solid numbers for a play-making receiver, especially considering his quarterbacks (Kyle Orton, E.J. Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel) during those two seasons.
A broken bone in his foot limited Watkins to eight games in 2016, in which he caught 28 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns. Nothing really to write home about, but extrapolate those numbers over a full 16-game season and that lackluster grouping of stats turns into 56 catches, 860 yards, and four touchdowns. It’s a clear step back from his first two seasons, but still respectable nonetheless.
In The End …
Here is a fun fact about Watkins that I did not know until writing this up:
Most targets without a drop in 2017 (per @PFF):
Sammy Watkins 66
Pierre Garçon 65
Deonte Thompson 49
Lamar Miller 42
Danny Woodhead 37
Nick Boyle 35
Greg Olsen 34
Brandon Coleman 34
Dion Lewis 33
Ameer Abdullah 31
Charcandrick West 31
Braxton Miller 28
Ty Montogomery 27
— Jody Smith (@JodySmithNFL) January 11, 2018
Watkins and Pierre Garcon of the 49ers were the only two receivers to be targeted at least 60 times and not have a single drop. You should be rightly impressed by that. So while Watkins was the third option behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, his reliable hands made him a productive part of the Rams’ offense.
Watkins has shown playmaking ability in spurts during his career. He has speed that can take the top off a defense, reliable hands, prospect pedigree, and still has youth on his side (he won’t turn 25 until June 14). He isn’t a perfect wide receiver, but would be an upgrade to the Bears’ group of wideouts and could prove that he has yet to scratch the surface of his potential. Wouldn’t that be something if he were to do that with the Bears while catching passes from Mitch Trubisky?
And there’s one more thing I want to point out … Although Watkins comes with some pretty obvious flaws, he is more of down-field threat who could line up on the outside than some of the Bears’ other options, and that’s important. While someone like Allen Robinson might be the Bears’ first choice, guys like Albert Wilson and even Jarvis Landry are more suited for the slot. Point being, keep that (and the possibility of adding more than one receiver) in mind if the Bears interest in Watkins begins to heat up.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.