"This guy has a chance to be the best receiver in the NFL."
Those were the words from Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach following the signing of free agent receiver Sammy Watkins, and they make sense.
Over his four-year career, Watkins has averaged 15.9 yards per reception, which ranks sixth-best in the league since he entered it as the No. 4 overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014 out of Clemson.
And last year—his one season with the Los Angeles Rams after being traded there by the Bills right before the season—Watkins was one of just seven receivers in the league who had at least 500 yards receiving, averaged more than 15 yards per reception, and also scored at least seven touchdowns.
The Chiefs actually now have two of those seven players in both Watkins and Tyreek Hill, who, at least on paper, form one of the most-potent playmaking tandems in the NFL.
It has been apparent from offseason workouts that Watkins, Hill, and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes are going to make some plays this season. The ball is flying all over the place and guys are making plays.
It's just going to be a matter of consistency, and that's what they'll try and build towards during training camp. It's why it'll be one of the top storylines in St. Joseph, Missouri this year.
The fact that Watkins was even available for the Chiefs to sign in free agency is something Veach didn't take for granted.
"It's just hard to acquire these guys," Veach explained at the time. "When we're sitting there in free agency and you see a 24-year old, elite playmaker, you don't get those opportunities a lot. We talked about it in the staff room, we may not get this chance again.
"We expect to win and we have one chance to go get him, let's make it happen."
Watkins has game-breaking speed and challenges any cornerback to try and press him, something coach Andy Reid said they "invite people" to try and do next year, particularly considering they also have another burner in Hill, who averaged 15.8 yards per reception last year.
To make matters even more difficult for opposing defenses, Watkins and Hill ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, last season against off-man coverage, per Pro Football Focus.
So, teams will have to choose whether or not to get up and press them and whether they'll both have safety help over the top as well, and if they do, the box may be a little too light to stop the NFL's reigning rushing champion in Kareem Hunt, who had a breakout rookie campaign last year.
But perhaps the most impressive stat from Watkins from last year is that he didn't drop a single pass. Not one, despite having less than a month to develop any kind of chemistry with Rams' second-year quarterback Jared Goff.
Watkins was traded by the Bills to the Rams in the middle of August, and he still managed to lead their team with eight touchdowns last year.
"I don't know what me and the ball got going on, but it's kind of like a magnet to me," Watkins, who showed off those hands during offseason workouts with daily one-handed grabs, explained of his mindset when the ball is in the air. "It sticks to me and we got that connection…no matter what the throw is, I'm going to go and get it."
And in just a short time, Watkins seems to have already picked up a lot of the verbose Chiefs' offense. Veteran receiver Chris Conley also said he's never seen anyone pick up the offense as quickly as Watkins.
"I feel great," Watkins explained. "I know what I'm doing. I'm moving around. It's just a great feeling because I'm not just sitting at the X receiver spot on the backside looking at two-man or a double. I'm really playing against a slot (cornerback) and getting an advantage on the linebackers, getting an advantage on the safety, and those are things I didn't have access to (in the past), and now I do."
Watkins went on to say that he enjoys the fact that the Chiefs' offense teaches their receivers to be interchangeable—that everyone can play every spot.
"It's fun for me because I've never been able to learn slot routes and stuff like that—not because I couldn't, but I just didn't have an offense that was available to move me around to different places," he added. "It's been fun and I can actually visualize the offense and where it's going, and it's going to be something else."
Watkins was often the first one in the building during the work week—running routes on his own before the rest of the team joined him for practice later in the day. It's all part of what he brings to the table
"These guys here are letting my talent be displayed," Watkins said. "I have the whole route tree. It's not like I'm being held back, and honestly, that makes me want to work harder and learn even more.
"I feel like a complete receiver now running those quick routes, those option routes, getting in on screens and speed sweeps—that's how I was in college and I'm starting to get that feeling back of being in college and being an all-around player."
"Every day he does something a little better than he did the day before," Chiefs' coach Andy Reid said. "You see the quickness, the speed, and the strength, and his ability to catch the football is incredible."
And after a few months, the primary subject of one of the Chiefs' biggest offseason moves this year isn't having second thoughts about his decision to join the team.
"When you sign a big contract—some guys can look at you different, but these guys welcomed me in," Watkins explained. "I'm naturally—not shy, but a quiet guy, reserved, and I actually opened up more than in the past previous years where I was like, 'I'm not talking to nobody, I'm not dealing with nobody.'
"I have fun with these guys."