How High Is Sammy Watkins’ 2019 Fantasy Football Ceiling?
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Sammy Watkins
- Is Sammy Watkins poised to thrive in 2019 fantasy football?
- Ian Hartitz analyzes Watkins' outlook in the Chiefs' high-powered offense.
Editor’s note: This story was first published before news broke that Tyreek Hill won’t be suspended. Read what that means for Watkins and the Chiefs’ wide receiver corps here, and see our experts’ updated rankings with our Draft Kit.
The Chiefs are in a precarious situation entering this season. They were an ill-timed offsides penalty away from advancing to Super Bowl 53, but could now be without game-changing receiver Tyreek Hill.
Still, it’s hard to see the Chiefs having too tough of a time scoring points as long as reigning-MVP Patrick Mahomes remains under center with Andy Reid calling plays.
Kansas City thus remains a prime destination for fantasy football goodness, and Sammy Watkins has a chance to be the prime beneficiary from Hill’s potential release. The sixth-year receiver hasn’t played 16 games in a season since his rookie year and hasn’t offered much fantasy upside since 2015, but it’s tough to ignore Watkins’ potential status as Mahomes’ No. 1 wide receiver.
The Chiefs Don’t Have a Deep WR Room
Mahomes could enter 2019 without his No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 leading receivers from last season in terms of receiving yards. Hill’s potential absence would obviously be the most detrimental of the group, but the services of both Kareem Hunt and Chris Conley will also be missed.
The following wide receivers are the only players currently under contract with the Chiefs. Their career catches are listed in parenthesis.
Career catches from Chiefs WRs (if Tyreek Hill is ultimately not in the picture):
Sammy Watkins (232)
Demarcus Robinson (43)
Mecole Hardman (0)
Gehrig Dieter (1)
Marcus Kemp (1)
Byron Pringle (0)
Josh Crockett (0)
Davon Grayson (0)
Sammie Coates (29)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 8, 2019
No, I didn’t make up any of those names.
Watkins has 158 more career receptions than the rest of the Chiefs’ wide receiver room combined. Robinson is a steady presence opposite of Watkins, but has managed to catch five passes in only two of his 52 career games (including playoffs).
It’s unclear exactly how ready Kansas City’s rookie receivers are to contribute from Day 1. The elephant in the room is Mecole Hardman, who was selected with the 56th overall pick. Early-round receivers are much more likely to offer upper-tier fantasy production their rookie year, and the former Georgia receiver offers similar size (5-foot-10) as Hill and speed (4.33-second 40-yard dash) in the same stratosphere.
Still, remember that it took the real-life Hill until Week 8 to play even 20 snaps at receiver as a rookie in an offense that was headlined by the corpse of Jeremy Maclin. This was partially due to Hill still learning the ins-and-outs of the position, which is something Hardman is also still going through after playing quarterback in high school and starting his career at Georgia at cornerback.
This leaves us with five undrafted free agents from the past two seasons along with Coates, who is on his fourth team since 2016.
It’d be shocking if Watkins doesn’t start the season as Mahomes’ No. 2 option in the passing game after Travis Kelce. After all, isn’t that why they’re paying him so much money?
The Chiefs Are Heavily Invested in Sammy Watkins
There’s a short list of wide receivers currently earning at least $16 million per season:
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Antonio Brown
- Mike Evans
- Brandin Cooks
- DeAndre Hopkins
- Adam Thielen
- Sammy Watkins
No, a high salary doesn’t necessitate that a team will feed a player targets just for the sake of doing so, but it’s at the very least clear that the Chiefs are big fans of Watkins’ ability.
Few receivers across the league have had an impact as consistently positive on their quarterbacks as Watkins has.
Yards Per Attempt With Watkins vs. Without:
- Tyrod Taylor: 8.07 vs. 6.30
- Kyle Orton: 7.15 vs. 6.43
- Jared Goff: 8.07 vs. 7.47
- Patrick Mahomes: 9.44 vs. 8.22
A three-year contract worth $48 million for a glorified field stretcher might seem like a lot, but the figure doesn’t seem so bad when we consider the possibility that Watkins was more or less signed as insurance in the event of another off-field problem for Hill.
Watkins is positioned to work as the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver by default in 2019, whether or not that was their backup plan. Surprisingly, this fact hasn’t seemed to set in with the fantasy community quite yet.
Watkins Is a Screaming Fantasy Value
It’s simply tough to imagine a world in which the Chiefs get at least 13 games out of Watkins and he fails to return top-24 fantasy production as the No. 1 wide receiver under Mahomes and Reid.
Andy Reid top fantasy wide receiver by year with end of season PPR rank
2009: D-Jax WR10
2010: Maclin WR14
2011: D-Jax WR28
2012: Maclin WR22
2013: Bowe WR43
2014: Bowe WR57
2015: Maclin WR15
2016: Hill WR18
2017: Hill WR8
2018: Hill WR1
2019: Sammy Watkins WR? pic.twitter.com/VdbYgex2MQ
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 26, 2019
The good news for potential Watkins fantasy investors is that he isn’t currently priced anywhere near his ceiling. This was the case for the early parts of his career, but the fantasy community has (understandably) backed off the former No. 4 overall pick in recent seasons.
Watkins’ Average Draft Position (PPR):
- 2014: WR42
- 2015: WR28
- 2016: WR16
- 2017: WR32
- 2018: WR39
- 2019: WR26
Watkins managed to gain at least 100 receiving yards in three of 10 non-injury shortened games during his first season with the Chiefs (including playoffs). He worked as the league’s PPR WR28 in Weeks 1-10 last season before getting injured.
Watkins still would offer boom-or-bust appeal in the event that he’s somehow delegated to No. 2 WR duties to start the season. Still, at his current ADP, either outcome is a value with Mahomes under center.