Prospect Profile: Sammy Watkins

In a draft chock full of talented wide receivers, no one has the kind of upside that Sammy Watkins offers. The Clemson star is a mortal lock for the top ten and highly likely to go inside of the top five thanks to his top-level speed and playmaking ability.

Watkins has the ability to burn cornerbacks deep, but that’s far from his only tool to make an impact on the field. The wide receiver has routinely shown the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a major gain with his agility and quickness. Beyond the physical skills, Watkins has the innate knowhow to get away from cornerbacks that you rarely see from someone his age. Nothing is ever guaranteed in the long-term, but his makeup implies that he could have an instant impact in the NFL ala A.J. Green or Julio Jones.

A team that embraces a west coast offense could really help Watkins flourish. Some have said that Watkins is a product of the offensive system at Clemson – a valid concern – but the liberal use of short passes and bubble screens could help make him feel like he’s still wearing neon orange on a Saturday. Taking that a step further, Watkins might be a good match for a rookie or sophomore quarterback. Veteran receivers can help with the maturation process, but having a safety blanket like Watkins who can take a five-yard pass deep down the field can bring additional comfort.

That’s not to say that there aren’t concerns about Watkins’ transition to the next level. For starters, at 6-foot and change (or 6’1″, depending on who you ask), the speedster could have some trouble against larger cornerbacks out of the Seahawks mold. You also won’t mistake Watkins for David Boston – he’s got a good sized frame and is defined at 211 pounds, but he doesn’t have the kind of major body mass that can offset his stature. Most of this league’s elite wide receivers stand at 6’3″ or taller, and that’s no coincidence. Watkins will have to adjust his game to find the football amongst the trees if he wants to get into the same stratosphere as Green, Jones, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, and all the rest.

Beyond that, Watkins has yet to show the ability to run a wide range of routes in game action. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t run a multitude of crisp routes, but that is something of an unknown about Watkins since the Tigers aren’t known for mixing things up too much with their receivers. Can you blame Clemson? When dumpoff passes and bubble screens fluster opponents on a weekly basis, there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.

So where will Watkins wind up? Looking at the top of the draft, the Jaguars (No. 3) would be a logical landing spot since Justin Blackmon is on thin ice, but Jacksonville’s needs go far beyond receiver. At No. 4, the Browns have been frequently talked about as a team that would make sense for Watkins and we’re inclined to agree. Cleveland needs a signal caller too, but they could have a few attractive options in play at No. 26, including Fresno State’s Derek Carr. if the Browns go quarterback at No. 4, the Raiders (another team with multiple needs) will have to give some serious thought to drafting Watkins. If the late Al Davis was still with us, there’s no way he’d turn down Watkins and his 4.43 second 40-yard-dash time. The Buccaneers (No. 7) and the Lions (No. 10) are also high on Watkins, but they’ll probably have to move up if they want to grab him. Any way you slice it, it’s hard to see the Clemson star falling out of the top ten.

Giants Sign Josh Freeman

TUESDAY,10:51pm: Freeman gets just $55K guaranteed in the deal, tweets Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.

8:59pm: Freeman’s deal is a one-year, $750K pact, tweets Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

MONDAY, 9:48am: Freeman officially inked his deal today upon arriving for the start of the Giants’ offseason program, says Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News (via Twitter).

WEDNESDAY, 11:29am: Freeman’s contract with the Giants will be a one-year pact, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Caplan adds, as a sidenote, that the Packers would have been interested in signing Freeman if the Giants had landed Flynn (Twitter link).

11:08am: Freeman has agreed to terms with the Giants, tweets Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports.

11:04am: The Giants and Josh Freeman are working toward a deal and are expected to reach an agreement within the next day or so, reports Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Freeman was one of two veteran free agent quarterbacks said to be visiting the team this week, but the second – Matt Flynn – ended up re-signing with the Packers instead, leaving Freeman as the apparent top target for New York.

Freeman, 26, was Tampa Bay’s full-time starting quarterback from 2009 to 2012, but saw the wheels come off last year and was cut by the team. In his first four seasons, the former 17th overall pick completed 58.8% of his passes and tossed 78 touchdowns to go with 63 interceptions, as well as throwing for more than 4,000 yards in 2012. In 2013 though, Freeman’s completion percentage in four starts with the Bucs was just 45.7%, a number which declined even more after he joined the Vikings and performed poorly in his lone start.

Still, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report recently suggested (via Twitter) that general managers feel like Freeman was “thrown to [the] wolves” in Minnesota. And at age 26, with multiple strong seasons under his belt, there’s room for the former Buccaneer to turn things around.

For the Giants, Freeman figures to provide veteran insurance for Eli Manning, who recently had surgery on a troublesome left ankle. Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib are also under contract with the club.

Draft Notes: Ebron, Ford, McGill, Bridgewater

North Carolina’s Eric Ebron took to Twitter to announce that he’ll be traveling to New York, Florida, and Tennessee this week. The Jets would be a logical destination for the athletic tight end, though he may not last until pick No. 18. Of course, he could also pay the Giants a visit he’s in town and Florida could mean stops with the Buccaneers, Dolphins, or Jaguars. Ebron could certainly be in play for the Titans at No. 11 and they’ve been said to have interest in recent weeks. A look at tonight’s draft news..

  • Auburn standout Dee Ford, who visited the Falcons today, has already paid a visit to the Texans, writes Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. Ford is a classic hybrid pass rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker who could potentially play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme if he bulks up.
  • Utah cornerback Keith McGill is visiting the Jets today, a source tells Seth Walder of the New York Daily News (on Twitter).
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (on Twitter) hears that the Dolphins like Tennessee right tackle Ju’Wuan James. The 6’6″ 312 pound lineman is likely a second round type.
  • When all is said and done, the talk about Teddy Bridgewater plummeting in the draft might be much ado about nothing, tweets Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

NFC South Rumors: Bailey, Falcons, Panthers, Boyd

New Saints cornerback Champ Bailey says he’s not motivated by doubters, but by the desire to win, writes Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “Well, that comes with the business,” Bailey said of the skeptics. “People are always gonna doubt you. You have one hiccup, and you know, you’re just not the same. My thing is just to go out there and play the best I can.” Bailey struggled last season with the Broncos, largely due to a foot injury that sidelined him for eleven games. More out of the NFC South..

  • There’s been a lot of talk about how the Falcons will fill the void left by the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, but Matt Ryan says he has lots of confidence in second-year tight end Levine Toilolo, writes ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure. Toilolo, a former fourth-round pick from Stanford, had just 11 catches for 55 yards with two touchdowns as a rookie in spot duty behind Gonzalez. But Gonzalez’s limited practice time during the 2013 campaign allowed Toilolo to get plenty of first-team reps in practice.
  • The Panthers have worked out Fresno State cornerback L.J. Jones, a source tells Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (on Twitter). The 5’10″, 201-pound senior saw his final season cut short by a knee injury. Jones figures to be a late-round prospect.
  • Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has had private workouts with the Panthers, a source tells Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter). Boyd has also auditioned for the Buccaneers, Rams, Patriots, and Jets.

West Rumors: Baldwin, Tuck, Jones, Chargers

Doug Baldwin told 710 ESPN in Seattle that he has not yet signed his second-round tender, but he is working out with the Seahawks at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, tweets Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times (on Twitter). Seattle extended the one-year, $2.187MM tender to Baldwin back in early March. Baldwin is coming off of a solid season in which he hauled in 50 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. Baldwin added that he still hopes to work out a long-term pact with the team, tweets Terry Blount of ESPN.com. More from the AFC and NFC West..

  • Justin Tuck knows the Raiders‘ history and reputation, but he says he’s ready to help turn it all around, writes ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez. “A lot of people always say you go to Oakland for your career to die. I’m not looking at it like that. I’m looking at it like this is an opportunity to revive a storied franchise in a city with a great fan base behind this football team. The energy and excitement around this football team should be good. I’m excited about it,” said the veteran.
  • New Raiders receiver James Jones spoke glowingly of his relationship with GM Reggie McKenzie when they were together in Green Bay, writes Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle (Sulia link).
  • Former Ohio State cornerback Brandon Roby is en route to San Diego to visit the Chargers, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego (on Twitter).
  • The 49ers hosted three draft prospects today, according to Adam Caplan of NFL.com (on Twitter). Arizona State outside linebacker Carl Bradford, University of South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch, and defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame all flew out to San Francisco.

Record 30 Prospects Invited To Draft

As Brady Quinn can attest to, being invited to attend the NFL Draft in New York doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a first-round selection. However, it can be a pretty decent indicator of which players are trending upwards and which ones could be in for a tumble on draft day. Today, the NFL announced that a record 30 players will be in attendance for the 2014 draft:

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. WR Louisiana State
  • Blake Bortles QB Central Florida
  • Teddy Bridgewater QB Louisville
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S Alabama
  • Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina
  • Brandin Cooks WR Oregon State
  • Kony Ealy DE Missouri
  • Eric Ebron TE North Carolina
  • Mike Evans WR Texas A&M
  • Kyle Fuller CB Virginia Tech
  • Jimmy Garoppolo QB Eastern Illinois
  • Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State
  • Ra’Shede Hageman DT Minnesota
  • Timmy Jernigan DT Florida State
  • Cyrus Kouandjio T Alabama
  • Cody Latimer WR Indiana
  • Marqise Lee WR Southern California
  • Taylor Lewan T Michigan
  • Khalil Mack LB Buffalo
  • Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M
  • Jake Matthews T Texas A&M
  • Jordan Matthews WR Vanderbilt
  • Morgan Moses T Virginia
  • C.J. Mosley LB Alabama
  • Calvin Pryor S Louisville
  • Greg Robinson T Auburn
  • Bradley Roby CB Ohio State
  • Ryan Shazier LB Ohio State
  • Jason Verrett CB Texas Christian
  • Sammy Watkins WR Clemson

It should also be noted that not all of these players are being pegged by the league office as top picks – some are likely Day 2 selections. The list of 30 includes four quarterbacks in Bortles, Bridgewater, Garoppolo, and Manziel and zero running backs. Notables not making the trip to New York include Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, and Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, tweets Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Pigskin Links: Bortles, 49ers, Pryor, Chargers

On this date four years ago, the NFL Draft was aired in prime time for the first time. The draft was a Saturday-Sunday event from 1995 to 2009 and took place on Sunday and Monday from 1988 to 1994, and prior to 1988, it was held on one or two weekdays. The move, at the time, was met with a bit of skepticism, but there’s no doubt that the draft is a bigger event and an even larger moneymaker than before.

Do you have a great football blog post that you want featured on Pro Football Rumors? Send me a link at PigskinLinks@gmail.com to be in next Tuesday’s edition. Here’s this week’s look around the football blogosphere..

If you have a blog post to suggest for Pigskin Links, you can email it to Zach at PigskinLinks@gmail.com.

Alex Smith Contract Talks Moving Slowly

Alex Smith confirmed yesterday that his agent, Tom Condon, and the Chiefs have engaged in contract discussions for the veteran quarterback. However, a source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that those talks are moving “very, very slowly” so far. According to Florio, negotiations are likely to heat up sometime after next month’s draft.

For his part, Smith indicated yesterday that he’s not very involved in the process at this point: “My agent handles all of that, and that’s why you hire that guy to take care of that, so you can focus on football. It’s really not my place. I have a contract for this year.”

Indeed, Smith is under contract for a cap number of $8MM for 2014, which includes a $7.5MM base salary. If and when he and the Chiefs reach an agreement on a long-term extension, it figures to significantly boost his annual average value. As Florio writes, something in the neighborhood of $14-17MM per year seems about right for the Chiefs’ signal-caller.

Smith, who turns 30 on the day before the draft, excelled in his first year in Kansas City, making the Pro Bowl roster for the first time in his eight-year career. The former first overall pick set career-highs in completions (308), passing yards (3,313), and passing touchdowns (23), while winning 11 of his 15 starts for the Chiefs.

Extra Points: Coleman, Ingram, Costa, Spiller

Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Vikings on a one-year, $900K contract that doesn’t include any guaranteed money, says he turned down offers featuring guaranteed money from two other teams, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. According to the 25-year-old safety, both the Colts and Jets offered some guaranteed money, though he didn’t specify how much. One of those two clubs also offered a higher salary than the $900K he got from Minnesota, Coleman tells Tomasson.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the NFL:

  • Saints running back Mark Ingram hasn’t heard from the club one way or the other on whether his 2015 option will be picked up, as Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune outlines. “I’m not sure if they will pick up the fifth-year option,” Ingram said. “I’m just working one day at a time and I’m just glad I’m on a team that’s a championship contender.”
  • Phil Costa, who unexpectedly retired this week after signing with the Colts last month, issued a statement this morning through his agent, explaining his decision (link via Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News). According to Costa, the “day-to-day physical rigor” of the NFL has taken a toll on his body, and contributed to his decision. Although Costa’s deal included $450K in guaranteed money, the Colts won’t be on the hook for that money, according to Mike Chapell of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link), who says the agreement included default language.
  • In an informative piece at OverTheCap.com, Jason Fitzgerald explains how workout bonuses function, and provides a breakdown of the team-by-team amounts for those bonuses this year.
  • C.J. Spiller, who is eligible for free agency in 2015, spoke to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com about his upcoming contract year, suggesting he’ll talk to former teammates Jairus Byrd about the process. Spiller, who will have to hire an agent before any negotiations begin with the Bills, indicated he’d be open to a long-term deal to remain in Buffalo.
  • Baylor cornerback Demitri Goodson should come off the board a little higher than expected in next month’s draft, says Adam Caplan of ESPN.com, tweeting that the third or fourth round sounds about right for Goodson.
  • Kyle Williams‘ minimum salary benefit contract from the Chiefs includes a $10K workout bonus and will count for $580K against the team’s camp, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Minor Moves: Bills, Lions, Jaguars, 49ers

Within this post, we’ll round up all of Tuesday’s minor transactions — players accepting exclusive rights contract tenders, teams signing players without real NFL experience, minor contract restructures, and so on. Any new minor transactions that pop up during the rest of the afternoon and evening will be added to the top of the page throughout the day:

  • The Dolphins have signed punter Matt Szymanski to a contract, according to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). Given the presence of Pro Bowl punter Brandon Fields on the Dolphins’ roster, Szymanski will likely just be an extra camp leg for the team.

Earlier updates:

  • Exclusive rights free agents Chris Hogan, Antoine McClain, and Frank Summers have re-signed with the Bills, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak (via Twitter). Of the three players, Summers played the most for the club in 2013, appearing in 232 offensive snaps and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Hogan also caught 10 balls and recorded nine special teams tackles.
  • Cory Greenwood, who previously had two years remaining on his contract with the Lions, has eliminated the 2015 season and reduced his 2014 salary and cap number to the minimum ($645K), says Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). The renegotiation also eliminates a $20K workout bonus for this year, according to Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap.
  • Jaguars fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou has signed his ERFA tender to return to the team, tweets Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com. Ta’ufo’ou, who had 10 carries and a single reception for Jacksonville in 2013, will be eligible for restricted free agency after the 2014 season.
  • The 49ers have waived fullback Alex Debniak, who spent his rookie season on IR with a torn Achilles, the team announced today in a press release.
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