The Fantasy Impact of the Sammy Watkins Trade

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ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a touchdown reception by teammate Charles Clay (not pictured) by tossing the ball into the stands against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter at New Era Field on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. The Miami Dolphins defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Admit it. The first time you heard that Sammy Watkins had been traded you feared for the worst. You heard the phrase “has been traded” and you likely filled in the rest yourself, “to the IR.” The curveball here wasn’t just the fact that Watkins is fine, but that he’s been traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Now that the dust has settled, most of us are wondering about the fantasy implications of the trade.

The Fantasy Impact of the Sammy Watkins Trade

The Impact on Sammy Watkins

It’s not often that you hear that moving to LA is a downgrade, but that’s the case here. Watkins went from facing the secondaries of the NFC South and teams like the Jets (twice) to the tough NFC West. Don’t get me wrong. Watkins had his fair share of tough match ups when he was with the Bills (most notably facing the improved Patriots’ secondary twice), but his updated schedule includes a brutal week 5 through 15 stretch. During these weeks Watkins faces the following secondary ranks (according to Pro Football Focus): #1 (NYG), #3 twice (SEA), #6 (JAC), #8 (MIN), #11 twice (ARI), and #13 (HOU). In short, as Warren Sharp put it, Watkins could be a sell-high candidate this year.

Jared Goff will need to improve in order for Watkins to be a sell-high candidate, or hopefully more. When you look at the numbers, there is no doubt that going from Tyrod Taylor to Goff is a downgrade. Using Warren Sharp’s directional passer rating tool, there is a remarkable difference between the two passers. In fact, Goff had a higher passer rating in only one zone: deep left (twelve attempts). Even more discouraging is how often Goff threw short of the sticks. Last season Goff threw short of the line to gain 80% of the time with an average first down rate of 15%. That’s not good. In fact, that’s a RoboCop 3 kind of terrible. Goff’s predilection to throw short is bad news for a wide receiver who, according to NFL’s Matt Harmon, ran the nine (the go route) more than any other in the route tree.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for the Goff-Watkins pairing. Since Goff took over as the starter, he targeted Kenny Britt, his top WR, nearly eight times a game. In contrast, last season Watkins averaged six and a half targets per game. If Goff keeps up that rate, and if Watkins plays a full sixteen games, Watkins will be on track for around 125 targets for the season. If he had those targets last season, he would have ranked 21st (four behind Julio Jones) in that category.

The Impact on Jared Goff

Jared Goff, on the other hand, definitely benefits from this trade. It’s not everyday that a former top draft pick joins your offense. As far as what Watkins will bring to the offense, Matt Harmon notes that the new Ram wide receiver is quite good at seven routes: screen, slant, flat, comeback, dig, post, and the nine. Watkins does need to improve on his contested catch conversion rate, which has remained below league average. Outside of contested catches, Harmon also notes that Watkins has above average success rates versus both man and zone coverages. Essentially, this confirms what we pretty much already knew: when Watkins is on the field, he is #goodatfootball.

The person getting bad news here isn’t Goff, it’s Robert Woods. Woods, who was slated to be the top WR, has to make room for Watkins. Given Goff’s struggles last year, there are doubts that the Rams’ offense can support two fantasy wide receivers that are worth starting. Now, if Goff can take a decent step forward, things would change for the Rams. It might not be enough to thrust Woods into fantasy lore, but it certainly would help Watkins and Todd Gurley.

The Impact on Todd Gurley

Gurley logically stands to benefit from Watkins’s arrival. “Logically” is the operative word here. There is essentially no proof of how Gurley performs with a top level wide receiver in the NFL. Well technically that’s not true, but that would include watching the Pro Bowl, which is about as fun as putting down a beloved dog. Seriously. The Pro Bowl is the equivalent of watching Dads re-runs on a loop. I’m sure there’s a demographic out there that enjoys it, but they ought to be too ashamed to admit it.

The Watkins arrival likely means that defenses will have to respect the pass more. In theory, this should mean good things for the running game; however, according to Playerprofiler.com, only 4.7% of Gurley’s carries came against a stacked front. His struggles were less about facing stacked fronts, and more about the offensive line and quarterback play. In reality, Gurley will also need Goff to take a step forward in order to reclaim his prior success.

Conclusion

The deal that sent Watkins to Los Angeles hurt his fantasy value for the upcoming season. Goff now throws the ball to Watkins, which isn’t great for a number of reasons. Watkins also faces a truly rough stretch of secondaries. While injuries may change the look of his schedule, it’s never a good idea to bank on such changes. If you haven’t drafted yet, you need to drop Watkins down in your fantasy rankings.

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