By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
The Buffalo Bills called an audible during the 2014 NFL Draft.
With Sammy Watkins, Clemson’s two-time All-America wide receiver, available after Jacksonville selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, the Bills decided to reach out to Cleveland, who held the fourth pick, and offer the Browns their 2014 first-round pick, No. 9 overall, as well as their first and fourth-round picks in 2015 to move up and choose Watkins. The Browns accepted.
“That’s why I have so much respect and loyalty for this organization,” Watkins said. “It’s not easy to come up five slots and draft a guy who you really don’t know anything about. You see him on the field making plays, but to draft a guy and put your job on the line, it just shows you how much respect they have for me. And that’s why I go out every week and try to put it all on the field.”
Setting team rookie records with 65 receptions for 982 yards, Watkins credits his teammates with helping him adjust to the NFL.
“There’s pressure on all different types of levels from when you start playing Pop Warner. So there wasn’t that much added pressure,” Watkins said. “Guys really helped me with the process. You’ve got to understand everything’s not going to be perfectly smooth and you’re not going to go out there and do all the things you did in college.
“It’s a whole process. It might be a slow process for different people. It might take you two or three years or it might just take that year. You might start having success early. It depends on how well you come in and be a professional with taking care of your body, staying healthy and things like that.”
Despite feeling frustrated because he was forced to miss three of the first seven games last season because of injuries, Watkins led the Bills with 60 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns.
As he heads into the 2016 season and hopes to help the Bills reach the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 campaign, Watkins, who will turn 23 in June, feels he has matured on and off the field.
“I have grown in many ways,” Watkins said. “Like I said, there are ups and downs in the NFL. Everything’s not going to go your way. You’re going to have injuries, nicks and bruises, family issues. But I now have a balance.
“I know now I have to be a leader, I have to speak up more. For a couple years I didn’t talk to nobody. And that’s with dealing with a new coach (Rex Ryan) and foundation. I was quiet, really didn’t do anything but work hard and try to make as many plays as I could. And now it’s more vocal and really stepping up to be a leader.
“And I try to do lot of things in the community because this is now my home. My family’s here (longtime girlfriend Ta’La and their daughters Samiah, 2, and Azaria, 1) and I’m enjoying it. I do a lot of things with my babies and my girl and try to have fun with my family. I’m more so of a homebody than anything.”
With the annual Draft taking place this week and having experienced the “ups and downs in the NFL,” what advice would Watkins offer the rookies who will soon join him in Buffalo?
“The first thing I would say is keep a humble mind,” Watkins said. “You’ve got to really treat yourself like a professional early because that’s what’s going to keep you in this league, that’s what’s going to keep you going. You’ve got to have a balance in life of family, friends, a spiritual life, players on the team, the coaches.
“Come in with the mindset of no, I’m not just a NFL player. I’m a regular dude. I love football. I play football, but you’ve also got to know hey, I am a celebrity. So it’s two sided. It’s good and bad. Sometimes you’re not going to want to talk to fans, but hey, it’s a responsibility. Sometimes you’re not going to want to do this (community) event, but that’s responsibility. Have a foundation. That’s what you have to go by and be professional in your life and I think you should be fine.”