Next In Line: Replacing Sammy Watkins
By Mike Crocker
Sammy Watkins had a lot of ups and downs in his college career.
He was a touted high school receiver in the class of 2011 and made a big impact his first season on campus. His 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns were enough to elevate Clemson fans' expectations for an even better sophomore season, but he fell well short of those high hopes. Watkins ran into some trouble with the law due to possession of a controlled substance. As a result he was suspended for the first two games of 2012 and finished with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns, and never really achieved the same level of consistency.
During the offseason Watkins set out to prove his doubters wrong, and he landed back in the national spotlight with his best collegiate season. His 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns helped the Tigers win the 2014 Orange Bowl, and he was the game's MVP. Soon after, Watkins revealed he would forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft, which brings us to the present time.
As Watkins puts the final touches on all of his pre-draft responsibilities, let's take a look at who will take his role in the Tigers offense as the go-to playmaker. Rarely in sports is there ever an obvious choice for a replacement of a guy of Watkins' caliber, so let's examine three potential and current Tigers pass catchers who just might have what it takes to keep that offense roaring.
Charone Peake committed to the Clemson Tigers as the fifth-best wide receiver of the 2011 high school football recruit class according to at least one recruiting site. His 6-foot-3 frame and athletic ability gave the Tigers hope that the group of recruits (which included Watkins) would take the Tigers to a championship. Unfortunately for Peake, his collegiate career has been plagued with lackluster stats and a medical redshirt. However, with Watkins gone, all bets are off as the stacked wide receivers group looks for a new premier option.
I'm a fan of Peake and I believe his combination of bad luck and limited opportunities have held him back from reaching the potential he clearly tapped into and showcased in high school. Just like Watkins, this is the time where he needs to turn his playing career around and seize this opportunity.
Next up is Mike Williams. No, not that Mike Williams or the other Mike Williams, but the 6-foot-5 possession prototype receiver for Clemson with a white-colored number seven stitched across his torso. The sophomore is coming off a limited freshman campaign of 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Those may not appear to be "Sammy Watkins numbers," but they're encouraging if you look at one other stat. Williams tabulated 15.8 yards per catch, which excites me. The big thrill watching Watkins was his ability to break off big plays. One juke from Watkins could extend a short catch into a first down or more. So my theory is this: more playing time + a promising yards per catch average = increased potential, which at this stage is what coaches look for.
Finally, who doesn’t like a sleeper? Artavis Scott is a true freshman, a touted and multi-faceted 2014 recruit. His high school highlight reel includes his best plays not only as a wide receiver, but as a running back and defensive player as well. He is a true athlete, which in college football might just give you a necessary advantage. As I mentioned before, the Tigers have a plethora of depth at the wide receiver position, but it is traits like great yards after catch potential and route running that could give any young receiver a chance to shine. His 5-foot-10, 180-pound build suggest he might be better equipped as a slot receiver or downfield threat role early on.
Both Watkins and his fellow Clemson receiver and partner in crime Martavious Bryant are headed for the NFL, and with that absence comes opportunity. An opportunity that these three young receivers, as well as the other options like Adam Humphries and Germone Hopper, are all vying to take advantage of.
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