What happened to Sammy Watkins? How oft-injured Bills draft bust found role in Chiefs offense

By | January 23, 2021

For Bills fans, it must seem fitting that a potential revenge game for Sammy Watkins against his former team was called into question because of injury.

Watkins, the Chiefs’ No. 2 wide receiver, has dealt with a calf injury since Week 16 and missed Kansas City’s divisional round game against the Browns. If he plays against Buffalo, it’ll give him a matchup against the team that traded up to draft him with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line. It’s a much larger stage than Watkins himself ever reached with the Bills.

Even in Kansas City, Watkins hasn’t oozed consistency, flashing major talent one week and disappearing or getting hurt the next. It’s not an unfamiliar story for those members of Bills Mafia who hoped for so much from 2014’s No. 4 pick. 

Why did the Bills trade Sammy Watkins in 2017?

Buffalo entered the 2014 NFL Draft holding the ninth pick. That was high enough to get a good player, but apparently not high enough to get the player the Bills wanted. Buffalo sent the No. 9 overall pick, a 2014 fourth-rounder and a 2015 first-rounder to the Browns to move up five spots. At No. 4 overall, they took Watkins out of Clemson.

That made Watkins the first receiver off the board in a draft that also included Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry. He’d never quite live up to that massive price tag.

As a rookie, Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards, then he grabbed 60 for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in his second season. Of course, Watkins was held back at times by poor quarterback play, especially in a rookie season helmed by EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton. But Tyrod Taylor provided some stability from 2015 on that Watkins couldn’t quite find himself.

After playing every game as a rookie, Watkins missed three games in 2015 with calf and ankle issues. In 2016, Watkins missed eight games due to reaggravation of a foot injury he’d needed surgery on in the preceding offseason. That would be his last season in Buffalo, a 7-9 campaign for the Bills that featured just 28 catches for Watkins.

With a new coaching staff in place for 2017 led by Sean McDermott, the decision-makers that had traded up to acquire Watkins weren’t calling all the shots anymore. That allowed the Bills to move on, sending him and a sixth-round pick to the Rams for a second-round pick and EJ Gaines. Buffalo subsequently moved that draft pick, too, making it tough to grade whether the second Watkins trade was any better than the first. 

At the time of the trade, Watkins tweeted, “New chapter in life everything happens for a reason… Buffalo thank you for all the memories.. Rams nation get ready..”

MORE: How Packers star Davante Adams was overlooked in 2014 NFL Draft

How Sammy Watkins joined the Chiefs

Watkins spent only one year with the Rams, the final year of his rookie contract. He played in all but one game and caught eight touchdowns, showing enough promise combined with his draft pedigree to earn a three-year, $48-million contract with the Chiefs ahead of the 2018 season. 

Injuries have still been a problem for Watkins in Kansas City, causing him to miss 10 of the possible 48 games in his three seasons with the Chiefs. But he’s been a competent tertiary target for Patrick Mahomes behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce when on the field. 

Watkins’ biggest day with the Chiefs came in Week 1 of 2019. Hill departed with an injury, and Watkins went on to catch nine passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

Those numbers weren’t a springboard for Watkins, though. The 2019 season was his best in K.C., and that reached only moderate heights of 52 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns. Watkins has never again reached the prominence of his first two seasons with the Bills, as injuries have contributed with a failure to live up to his lofty draft status.

Even with Mahomes throwing him the football, Watkins doesn’t seem likely to ascend back to No. 1 receiver status, and he’s set for free agency after the conclusion of the 2021 postseason. Still just 27, Watkins will get another solid contract from someone looking for a talented receiver. Injuries and inconsistency will likely follow him to his new home, too.