To give the Ravens what they're looking for, Sammy Watkins knows he must stay healthy.
Watkins plans to work on avoiding injuries with the same diligence that he works on running routes. After the Ravens signed the 27-year-old wide receiver to a one-year contract in free agency, Watkins knew questions about his injury history would follow him to Baltimore.
He has missed at least three games in four of his seven NFL seasons, including last year when a hamstring injury limited him to 10 games and a career-low 421 receiving yards with the Kansas City Chiefs.
When Watkins met with the Ravens before agreeing to his deal, it was no surprise that his injury history was a topic of discussion. Watkins told the Ravens he is committed to having a healthy season, and he believes the team's coaching and training staff will help him realize that goal.
"I just think for me, I have to be smart," Watkins said. "I talked to Coach [John Harbaugh] and his staff, I'm a guy that goes 100% and a guy that really doesn't know better. I told them that they have to protect me, know when to [not] let me kill my legs and make sure I'm getting good work, but also knowing when to pull back. I think that's very critical with having a coach that understands that.
"You feel good, you play good. That's the thing about this league, it's hard to feel good on a daily basis and go out there on Sundays and play. But most times, the guy that's having success, their body is feeling good and they're having fun with it. I just think [it's about] staying healthy, getting my massages, eating right, staying on the same page as this training staff and doing the right things in the weight room, which I've heard that they have a great program. So, I can't wait to get started with those guys."
An assortment of injuries have forced Watkins to miss time over his career. In 2015, he had calf and ankle issues. In 2016, he broke a small bone in his foot that required surgery, and in 2018 he suffered another foot injury that limited him to 10 games.
However, the Ravens believe strongly in the offseason and in-season training programs developed by Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Steve Saunders. Earlier this month, before the Ravens acquired Watkins, Harbaugh talked about Saunders' innovative approach and how it has helped decrease injuries.
"What Steve does is so unique and so good," Harbaugh said. "Functional strength is one way to describe it. In terms of all the unilateral-type of lifts we do that are about balance, body control, small muscle groups, awkward positions that you get put in to develop strength, I think, that really go a long way toward staying healthy.
"It's so much more advanced – the way people are doing it. I think Steve is on the cutting edge of that, and, really, the results speak for themselves, when you look at how far we've come in the last five years with injury prevention. We were a very strong, physical team at the end of the year, production-wise, performance-wise, and we've been a healthy team as well. And I think that goes to how hard our guys work. When Steve motivates guys, they work hard – we require that. We don't bring in guys who don't like to work, so it's really not a problem."
Watkins mentioned how much he enjoyed his one season playing with the Los Angeles Rams (2017) when he finished with 39 catches for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. That was Watkins' healthiest season since he was a rookie in 2014 and played 16 games for the only time in his career. Watkins said Rams Head Coach Sean McVay understood how to manage players' workloads.
"I think that's why I was successful at the Rams," Watkins said. "I had a good coach who kind of knew when to pull back, when to have those not necessarily rest days, but not doing 100 plays at practice. I was able to go into the game and be successful and feel really good about myself."
Before he signed, Watkins spoke with former Ravens wide receiver/returner De'Anthony Thomas about his time in Baltimore. Thomas described an atmosphere where players work hard, care about winning, and take care of each other in practice. That sounded like exactly what Watkins wanted.
"De'Anthony Thomas told me this is one of the best places to be in your career, because everything is fun, there's great energy, great vibes," Watkins said. "Coach Harbaugh sets the tone in the building, and just really, they take care of their players, they've got a great weight program. He just told me, 'Man, you're going to love it.'
"As I walked into that building, just being around everyone, I just knew this is a great vibe, this is what I need. This feels like a college atmosphere, and I just can't wait to get started with those guys to fix my body, do whatever I have to do to stay available on the field and have fun and go out there and play games."
After being the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Watkins hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2015. Even in the Ravens' run-heavy offense, Watkins believes he can reach that again – if he stays healthy.
"I just think it's time for the world to see Sammy Watkins – the one that was balling in college and running around the field having fun," he said. "I think I'm that guy, and I just have to put a healthy season together."