OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In his introductory news conference Monday, new Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins wasted no time in delivering a critical assessment of the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing game and how to fix it.
Watkins said he believes Lamar Jackson can become an “elite” quarterback in the NFL if the Ravens’ wide receivers get better separation for him.
“It takes guys getting open to be great and look great and be the Patrick Mahomes of the world and be Tom Brady,” Watkins said. “You got to have that No. 1 receiver or that No. 2 or that No. 3 nowadays to go out there and be successful and literally throw the ball with your eyes closed and be unconscious. If I can go out there and be healthy and the other wideouts can make plays … we can be a balanced offense. [If] we get open when we need to get open, I think Lamar can throw for those 4,000 yards or those 4,500 yards [or] 5,000 [yards] — whatever these guys are putting up. I think he can be that quarterback and be elite in this game.”
Watkins signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Ravens on Friday after the team was unable to lure JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton to Baltimore. It has been suggested that free-agent wide receivers don’t want to play in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Baltimore’s wide receivers have totaled the fewest catches and receiving yards in each of the past two seasons.
Watkins countered with this observation.
“To be honest, everybody wasn’t getting open. I think that’s a critical part with this offense,” Watkins said. “We can blame the offensive coordinators, but as players we got to do our job.”
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Ravens wide receivers did get open more than some would think. Baltimore’s wide receivers averaged 3.33 yards of separation at the pass arrival, which ranked fourth among qualifying quarterbacks.
But Jackson, the NFL MVP in 2019, is looking to become a more efficient thrower. He’s ranked 22nd in each of the past two seasons in passing yards, throwing 3,127 in 2019 and 2,757 last season.
Baltimore added Watkins to team with young wide receivers in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay.
After signing with the Ravens, Watkins spoke with Jackson, telling him, “This is your show. I just want to be a part of it. You’re a special talent, and I just want to come here and try to help out as far as making plays for you.”
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Watkins, 27, is now on his fourth team and acknowledged he wanted “new scenery” after three seasons in Kansas City. He said he already feels at home with the Ravens because of his familiarity with the coaching staff. His best season in the NFL was with the Buffalo Bills in 2015, when Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the play-caller there. Watkins’ personal receivers coach Keith Williams is now the pass game specialist.
With the combination of Roman and Williams, Watkins thinks he can live up to the expectations of being a top-five overall pick in the 2014 draft.
“I think it’s time for the world to see Sammy Watkins, the one that balled in college and running around the field having fun,” Watkins said. “I think I’m that guy. I just have to put a healthy season together and go out there and will some wins and have fun and enjoy the process.”
Watkins hasn’t produced more than 60 catches or 700 yards receiving in his last five seasons. The biggest problem has been durability.
He has played only one 16-game season and that was his 2014 rookie year. Over the past six seasons, Watkins has missed a total of 26 games due to calf, ankle, foot and hamstring injuries. He was sidelined for eight games last season for the Chiefs (including two playoff games) because of calf and hamstring issues.
“It’s always been about my availability,” Watkins said. “That’s been the knock on my whole career. I think I’m just as elite as any other receiver in the game as far as going out there and matching up and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played — blocking, running great routes, getting open. Just haven’t put it all together. This is critical — my seventh year now — to where hopefully I can put it all together, stay healthy, go out there and ball and be elite.”
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