Sammy Watkins arrived in Clemson on a mission, bookending a starting role he had three days into fall camp with All-American campaigns.
It’s no surprise that in a life-changing night in New York City – his focus quickly shifted to getting back to work, where in a stunning turn of events, the Buffalo Bills traded up from pick No. 9 to No. 4 to select Watkins.
“We were going to be bold and we made a bold move,” Bills CEO Russ Brandon said. “Sammy Watkins was a player that was very, very, very high on our board and someone we felt could contribute immediately.”
"I thought they were messing with me when they said they were going to pick me," said Watkins in an interview on NFL Network. "They trust in me and believe in me. Now it’s time to start playing."
The Bills, surprisingly enough, were Watkins’ favorite team growing up in Fort Myers, Florida. He joins former Tigers C.J. Spiller, Jonathan Meeks and Chris Hairston on the 53-man roster in Buffalo. Spiller (7,588) and Watkins (5,129) are the Tigers’ No. 1 and 2 all-time in all-purpose yards.
“I could not be happier for Sammy and his family,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is just unbelievable. Two of the greatest players in Clemson history are now teammates. C.J. has been blowing up my phone since the announcement was made. This could not be a better situation for Sammy...The first thing I said to Sammy’s mother is that he could not have a better mentor than C.J. Spiller. He’ll show Sammy the ropes.”
Watkins tied former pro Edgerrin James as the highest-drafted player out of the talent-rich Fort Myers area. His NFL Network interview was with Fort Myers' own Deion Sanders, who was picked No. 5 out of Florida State by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989.
"It’s a blessing just to see you get from there," Watkins told Sanders. "I just dedicated all my years to be hungry and dedicated and look where I’m at now."
The Bills made only their second trade ever in the first round – the first since 1982 when they grabbed another Clemson receiver, Perry Tuttle.
Throwing to him next season will be another ACC alum/former foe in E.J. Manuel, who was Buffalo's first round pick last season from FSU.
"He’s a great quarterback," Watkins said. "I played against him and they beat us pretty bad. I respect him and ready to get to work with him."
The praise for the move was universal among the draft pundits. He joins an offense that was 28th in the league in passing yards per game, led in receiving by tight end Scott Chandler (53 catches/655 yards/2 TDs).
ESPN analyst Ray Lewis, another south Florida product, says Watkins represents the future of the NFL.
“This is the most exciting player in the NFL draft today,” Lewis said. “He’s what the game is going to. The game is going to a playmaker that I can get the ball in his hands and he can make any play from anywhere on the field. He’s probably the most dynamic receiver we’ve seen come out in the last 5-10 years.”
The high-profile selection is another recruiting chip for Clemson’s coaching staff – Swinney, offensive coordinator Chad Morris and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott all in attendance at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night.
Watkins became the 24th first round pick in Clemson history – a third since 2010. His selection is tied for the highest in school history, with Gaines Adams (2007) and Banks McFadden (1940).
Swinney says – from day one – Watkins will be the best player on the field just like August 2011 on Jervey Meadows.
“He’ll be the best wideout day one when he gets there,” the Tigers coach said earlier this week. “He’s got that type of ability, focus, knowledge, technique, toughness, instincts – you just name it. There’s really nothing that limits this guy. His ability to catch the football. His explosiveness after the catch is a rare, rare thing.”
Over five drafts plus one round, Swinney’s Tigers have had the most players drafted in the ACC (24). At least four more are expected to go over the final two days in NYC.
Watkins and Daniel product DeAndre Hopkins' selection last year make it consecutive seasons of Tiger receivers in the first round – a Clemson and ACC first. It hasn’t happened nationally since 2006-07 (Ohio State).
Joining Hopkins, the south Florida native is only the second Clemson underclassman to be taken in the first round since 1997 (Anthony Simmons, 15th, Seattle Seahawks).
Day two of the NFL draft begins at 8 p.m. with former Tigers Bashaud Breeland, Martavis Bryant, Brandon Thomas and Tajh Boyd hopeful they will go in the second or third round.
2014 NFL Draft (Day One)