Best known for bringing the thick and powerful wide receiving frame to the field, Sammy Watkins has been of enormous significance to all the professional teams he has played for. Watkins’s skills have fetched him a good number of awards and accolades, two of which were in 2011 when he earned the National Freshman of the Year title after an outstanding season and in 2014 after he became the season’s Orange Bowl MVP.
Yet, for all the accolades Sammy Watkins has earned throughout his career, he hasn’t reached the height of his potential. His inability to do so has been a combination of injury problems, family troubles and a series of poor decisions on his part. An in-depth look at how his promising NFL career began and crumbled would shed more light on this.
Sammy Watkins’ Journey to the Buffalo Bills
Samuel Benjamin Watkins IV, or simply Sammy Watkins, is a Fort Myers, Florida native, born on June 14, 1993, to Nicole McMiller and Sammy Watkins III. He has an older half-brother Jaylen Watkins who is also a footballer, playing defensive back for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Watkins was a student of South Fort Myers High School based in Fort Myers, Florida, which is where he displayed his skills in three different sports – basketball, track & field, and, of course, football. As a footballer, he was named the all-time leading receiver in the entire history of Lee County, after recording 133 total catches for 2,997 and 36 touchdowns. Also, in his high school days, he was named a five-star recruit by Rivals.com and ranked 5th best by Scout.com.
When it was time to become a collegiate, Sammy Watkins chose to commit to Clemson University’s team over offers from Florida, Miami (FL), Michigan, Florida State, and Tennessee. Despite not taking part in Clemson’s spring practice, he made it as the National Freshman of the Year after catching 82 passes for 1,219 receiving yards and twelve touchdowns.
Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Deandre Hopkins, Clemson 2012 pic.twitter.com/0xuliYQ8MZ
— College Teammates (@NCAATeammates) October 1, 2018
This also made him the first freshman ever to be an AP All-American in ACC history. He not only was the best in the nation in all-purpose yards, reception yards per game, and touchdowns, but Sammy Watkins also won the MVP of the 2014 Orange Bowl Award after his Orange Bowl record of 16 receptions for 227 yards.
With the huge success recorded just in the junior season in college, Sammy then decided to forgo his senior season for a chance at the National Football League. He considered himself a life long fan of the Buffalo Bills, and during the 2014 NFL Draft, he achieved the dream of millions of football fans and became a player for his favourite team. He got drafted in the first round of the draft as the fourth overall pick.
His Career at Buffalo Bills: Drugs, Alcohol and Fan Antagonism
Sammy Watkins joined the Buffalo Bills with a considerable reputation behind him. He was the first wide receiver picked by the franchise in the first round since 2004. He proceeded to sign a $19.94 million four-year deal with the Bills, with $12.8 million of it coming in signing bonus.
On the pitch, he justified his large first contract. He finished the season 65 receptions and 982 receiving yards, setting a new record for the franchise. However, off the pitch, there was looming trouble. According to the player himself, he spent every night of his first season partying. He drank alcohol and engaged in recreational drugs.
The fact that his unhealthy off-field lifestyle had little effect on his productivity on the field was a testament to the raw talent of Sammy Watkins. But the consequences began to take its toll in the second season. He began suffering a series of injuries, which kept him off the team. In his sophomore season, he played three out of Bills’ first five games because of a calf injury.
It caused a significant drop in his productivity and birthed the second totem of Sammy Watkins’ troubles at Buffalo Bills – poor people relations. He regularly voiced his frustration to the press about his teammates and the team’s administration. He took his antagonism further, to the fans. Sammy went on social media and lashed out repeatedly at fans for their criticism.
Sammy Watkins sounds off on fans questioning his injuries. He has since deleted the comment. pic.twitter.com/esTq9QGhLd
— Billy Korhummel (@billykorhummel) October 27, 2015
Yet, despite the poor relationship with fans, teammates and club administrators, Sammy delivered a season performance with 60 receptions for 1047 yards and nine touchdowns. It was one of the best in the league, and it earned him a place in the Top 100 NFL Players of 2016.
In his third season with the Buffalo Bills, Sammy Watkins only managed to play eight games, starting all of them. He missed several games to injury, one of which was a broken bone in his foot. His injuries were primarily due to his unhealthy off-field lifestyle. He also suffered from poor injury rehab discipline. He regularly skipped injury rehab meetings and, once, after foot surgery, took off his walking boot against medical advice. The decision exacerbated the injury.
Depression, Family Issues and the Decision to Leave The Bills
Despite multiple attempts by the team to turn Sammy Watkins’ story around, they failed. Sammy slipped into depression, as other players from his draft class rose to stardom. His depression fueled his destructive behaviour, feeding a self-defeating cycle.
On the family front, his brother, Jari McMiller, was arrested by the FBI for gang and drug-related activities. According to the charges, his brother, whose case is still in court as of May 2020, is facing up to life in prison. Aside from his brother, four family members died, including his uncle, whose cause of death remains unknown.
After months of struggling and diving into religious and occultic texts, Sammy Watkins had a conviction that the Buffalo Bills was a wrong place for him. Bills hierarchy shared his belief and they declined to take up Sammy Watkins’ fifth-year option at the end of this third season.
His Life at the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs
After three years at the Bills, Sammy Watkins’ dream of playing for his favourite team came to an end. He got traded to the Los Angeles Rams in August 2017. Things were marginally better at the LA Rams, he played 15 games, starting 14 of them. He also recorded 39 receptions from 593 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. After one season, LA Rams traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs where he signed a three-year $48 million contract.
At Kansas City Chiefs, Sammy Watkins began to find his way back as an elite performer. With the help of Andy Reid, known as a players’ coach, Watkins found some peace as part of the Chiefs’ offence. He began living a healthy life and committed to the lifestyle expected of a professional footballer. Although his performances never matched the level of his first two seasons, he remained a significant contributor to the team’s display.
AHHHHHHHH 😁 pic.twitter.com/vVIcO1bSw1
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 19, 2020
The turnaround reached a critical point in the 2019 Super Bowl when he went on a 38-yard game-winning drive for the Chiefs. The drive, in a way, was his redemption, and the celebration of overcoming the struggles that defined the early years of Sammy Watkins’ career.