As the old football saying goes, there's ability and availability. Sammy Watkins has plenty of ability, but he's been lacking in availability.
The fourth-overall pick in 2014, Watkins started his career hot before running into nagging injury problems that have hampered his career and the ceiling of his vast potential.
Watkins won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. He's had a lot of shining moments. But he knows there's a lot more for him to show, and he believes he can put it on display after signing a one-year deal with the Ravens this offseason.
Watkins spent the past three years with the Chiefs, one season with the Rams and his first three years with the Bills. He hasn't played a 16-game season since his rookie year and has missed 26 regular-season games over the past six seasons.
"I definitely [feel] different here," Watkins said. "I just think I'm in a different space here and just a great environment to help me stay healthy and stay mentally stable to go out there and perform every day."
A hip injury hampered Watkins early in his NFL career and a fractured left foot in 2016 was his biggest hurdle, forcing him to miss the first eight games of that season. A right foot injury sidelined him for six games in 2018. Last year, a hamstring injury sidelined him for five straight games.
Watkins said part of the difference is that he's just older now and knows how to better practice and work in practice to sharpen his skills but not wear down his body. He credited the Ravens' coaching for helping with that, which is especially important in training camp.
"They kind of can feel me – two or three plays and take me out, put me in on certain plays. They know what I need," Watkins said. "And also, I'm old enough now to kind of figure out, 'Hey man, I need this. I need that. I need to work on this,' and they've just been doing well with it. I just hope I can continue to keep it up, continue to take care of my body and stay healthy."
The Ravens have a top-notch strength and conditioning program and dedicated and detailed recovery program – from trainers to diet and much more. Watkins credited the Ravens' training staff with taking care of his body with massages and other recovery methods.
"There is a 100% injury rate. Things happen. And I just kind of give it to God. Sometimes things are meant [to be]," Watkins said.
"But I'm just trying my best to stay healthy and do whatever I can to stay healthy. Sometimes things happen, but I can say this year, I'm doing everything in my might to stay on that field and be healthy and try to go out there and help my team each and every day, and I think that's the goal."
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Watkins also has the benefit of working with Keith Williams, who was his personal offseason coach while he was in Kansas City. Now the Ravens' pass game specialist, Williams is helping Watkins and all the receivers with their route-running every day.
"When I get tired or when I mess up on this route – 'Ay, focus, focus,'" Watkins said. "So, that's the type of thing I think any athlete needs. Yes, we're older and we're grown men, but you've got to have somebody pushing you better than you're pushing yourself, and I think that's why my season and my year is going to go well."
Even though he's just 28 years old, Watkins is the elder statesman of the Ravens' young wide receiver corps. Marquise Brown said he's already learned a lot from Watkins about having the right mentality and mindset. Brown said Watkins is pushing the group and they're doing the same for him.
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Thus far in practice, Watkins has shown a good mixture of big-play ability and toughness to make contested catches and move the chains. The Ravens have been looking for that kind of consistent outside receiver for years, and Watkins could deliver.
"It was always tough going against him. We talk it about it; our lockers are close," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "That dude is fast. He's going to bring a lot of plays to our team."
Watkins hasn't posted a 1,000-yard season since his second year in the league in 2015. He's topped 600 yards once since then, in large part because of the injuries. In 10 games last season, Watkins posted 37 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns.
But Watkins has always flashed when he feels good. In the Chiefs' 2019 run to the playoffs, he made 14 catches for 288 yards and a touchdown. He made one of the most clutch plays of Super Bowl LIV with a 38-yard catch late in the fourth quarter to set up the Chiefs' go-ahead touchdown.
"He's a fourth pick in the Draft. He's a talented guy," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He loves ball. He has lot of insight for those guys. The other thing is his competitiveness. [His] play-to-play competitiveness and his size. He's a physical guy.
"I think he's excited about the program here in terms of work ethic. I think he sees some things here that are going to give him an opportunity to maybe take a step he hasn't taken the last few years with what he's doing physically to get his body right. We'll see how he does."