Most FBS-level players, even the stars, would take a “disappointing” season like Sammy Watkins had last year.
The numbers were down across the board in 2012 – after setting records in receiving yards (1,219), yards per game (93.8) and touchdowns (12) among more his freshman year.
Starting slow due to suspension and dealing with injuries, Watkins still averaged a team-high catch every 7.1 snaps, with 708 yards total and the first 200-yard receiving game in Clemson history (202, at Wake Forest).
Same QB, new boundary position and no more Nuk Hopkins – the south Florida product may be the hardest player to project on the Tigers. His numbers the last two seasons…
2011 (14 games): 656 snaps – 82 catches – 1,219 yards (14.9 YPR) – 12 TDs; 32 rushes – 231 yards (7.2 YPC)
2012 (13 games): 403 snaps – 57 catches – 708 yards (12.4 YPR) – 3 TDs; 14 rushes – 112 yards (6.9 YPC) – 1 TD
The snaps will most certainly go up. The question is, with uncertainty at No. 2 receiver – will Watkins be able to get open like he did when Hopkins was opposite him?
The rising junior has averaged an incredible catch every 7.6 snap in his career, and did so while Hopkins posted a 9.7 rate. For perspective, Adam Humphries was the next nearest (11.4, only 6.8 yards per catch), while Charone Peake (16.7) and Martavis Bryant (24.5) were much further back last year.
Watkins’ targets are sure to go up from last season, but used more in the quick passing game, it will be hard to match Hopkins’ 17.1 yards per reception in 2012.
He's been targeted nine times per in games with at least one catch (takes out LSU last season). In the same timespan, Hopkins was targeted 8.9 times a game.
Clemson’s leading receiver, the two players alternating, has hauled in 6.3 catches a game the last two seasons.
Projection – Brandon Rink (O&W)
Breakout Season: 105 catches* – 1,680 yards* – 18 TDs*
Bust: 70 catches – 840 yards – 5 TDs
2013 Outlook: 90 catches* – 1,350 yards – 14 TDs; 28 rushes – 196 yards (14 games)
*Would be a Clemson record.
Here’s how I see it…
1) Targets go up, catch rate more in the middle of last two seasons – In 2011, Watkins was targeted 122 times (23.2 of total) and caught 67.2 percent of balls thrown his way. In 2012, Hopkins was targeted 130 times (27.4 of total) and he caught 63.1 percent. Boyd will try to throw to No. 2 early and often (projecting 10 targets a game) and Watkins’ catch rate will be somewhere in the middle of the last two seasons.
2) 2011 all-purpose yards hard to match - Different kickoff rules, new spot in the offense (boundary) and just focusing on being the nation’s top receiver should keep the total from his freshman-record 2,228 yards in ’11 and the Clemson record set by C.J. Spiller in 2009 (2,680). I’m sure he will be a key part of the return game, but he had 33 chances and averaged 25 yards per for 826 KR yards two years ago. With more touchbacks now, getting that many opportunities means your defense is really struggling. And with the new rules, just 32 players averaged 25 yards per return last season.
3) Out of the Heisman convo, possibly in the Biletnikoff area - No one in the ACC will challenge Watkins’ stats, but he will likely have to post numbers more like Marty is projecting below for the big national awards.
Projection – Marty Coleman (Seldom Used Reserve)
SUR 2013 Forecast: WR Sammy Watkins (12 games)
With great talent comes great expectations and Clemson fans expect Watkins to return to 2011 form this season and there’s no reason to expect otherwise.
The question is will that form match or exceed 2011 or will it be something a little less as the defense focuses on Watkins in his first season without Nuk Hopkins on the other side.
Watkins is used in the short game quite a bit as we documented last fall. Over 40% of Watkins receptions were at or behind the line of scrimmage. That number may dip a bit this season as the Tigers need to replace the deep threat of Hopkins, but you can bet that Sammy will catch his share of passes within 5 yards of the line.
That’s good news for Tiger fans, because Watkins with a football in his hands typically ends well. Check out of the rest of Coleman’s analysis here.
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