WOODRUFF — The NFL humbled Sammy Watkins, a supremely talented receiver who nearly registered a 1,000-yard campaign his rookie year.
Leaving Clemson with his name on essentially every major school receiving record, Watkins says he’s only getting started, which makes sense just 11 months into his professional career.
“You’ve got so many things you can fix in the NFL,” Watkins told The Post and Courier during an appearance at a fundraising event hosted by his agent Saturday. “At Clemson, you were better than everybody, so it’s easier. Now you’ve got to understand it’s not about talent; it’s about studying, it’s about knowing the film and studying your guy to beat him.”
An afternoon on the football field at Woodruff High School featured a receiving corps that would make several NFL rosters blush. They gathered for the second annual Tory Dandy Scholarship Fun Day, held at Dandy’s former high school.
Watkins, Carolina Panthers standout Kelvin Benjamin, ex-South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears, 49ers wideout Bruce Ellington (a Moncks Corner native and USC product) and Duke draft prospect Jamison Crowder were on hand greeting fans and signing autographs. So were former Gamecocks Mike Davis and Kelcy Quarles, and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tyson Jackson. All are represented by Dandy.
After the Buffalo Bills traded up to select him fourth overall in the 2014 draft, Watkins suited up all 16 games and totaled 982 yards and six touchdowns, despite playing with broken ribs and two quarterbacks when the Bills switched from EJ Manuel to Kyle Orton in late September.
“That’s when you really understand that the NFL is a business. Anybody can get hurt, and anybody can go in the game,” Watkins said. “It’s all about performance. Gotta make plays, or you’re not going to be on the field. So you’ve got to practice hard, study film, study your guys, and everything else will play on the field.”
This year, with new head coach Rex Ryan at the helm, Manuel is set to compete with veterans Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor for the starting gig in an offense highlighting Watkins, Percy Harvin and newly acquired All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy.
“We’ve just got to learn the offense,” Watkins said. “I don’t know who’s going to be the starter; all I can do is be on the same page as the QBs, whether it’s EJ, Matt Cassel or Tyrod Taylor. I’m going to be open when they throw the ball.”
Even though Ryan was with the Jets last year, Ryan and Watkins had a previous relationship, since Ryan’s son, Seth, was a Clemson walk-on wide receiver.
“He’s a great guy, great coach, great dad. That’s all you need in a head coach,” Watkins said. “He doesn’t put on a façade; he’s just being himself when he’s around us. He can joke around and he can be serious. I think that’s what every player needs, a coach that understands it’s not just about football, it’s about having fun.”
Although the Bills were a promising 9-7 in Watkins’ rookie season, they could not produce a three-game winning streak and stayed home for the 15th consecutive postseason.
Watkins reassures Bills fans it’s not just about finally playing in January again. His mission, this year, is February.
“I’m not even worried about the playoffs; that’s going to happen this year, with the players and coaches we’ve got,” Watkins said. “We’re talking about the Super Bowl, because we’ve got the team to make it happen.”