The Bills traded 2014 first-round pick Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams Friday. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from his tenure in Buffalo.
1. Celebrating too early and getting caught from behind before scoring a touchdown.
The Bills visited the Jets in October 2014 when Watkins made a rookie mistake for the ages. The first-year receiver torched cornerback Darrin Walls on a post route midway through the second quarter and hauled in a long pass from Kyle Orton. There was nothing but daylight ahead of him ... but Watkins celebrated prematurely and got caught by Saalim Hakim just short of the goal line.
— NFL (@NFL) October 26, 2014
Bills fullback Frank Summers ran in for the third and final touchdown of his career two plays later, putting the Bills up 21-7. The Jets committed six turnovers as the Bills won, 43-23, so at least this mistake didn't affect the outcome.
Poor guy. He looks so genuinely excited. pic.twitter.com/obVboi5l5Z
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) October 26, 2014
2. "If it pops, it pops."
After missing two games with a right calf injury in October 2015, Watkins vowed to come back and help the 3-2 Bills with their playoff push during Rex Ryan's first season as coach.
"Injuries happen every day," Watkins said. "I can't really go out there hoping that it doesn't pop. If it does, there's more life to live. You've got the next year and the next year. I'm going out there trying to win a game. If it pops, it pops. If it doesn't, hopefully I'll be right for the next week."
Speaking about a potential career-altering injury in such whimsical terms has to go down as one of the dumber things said by a Buffalo athlete in recent years, but at least some fans admired his determination to get back on the field. Watkins did indeed return that week against the Bengals, but injured his left ankle on a touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Watkins was seen on crutches at halftime and would miss the following week's game against the Jaguars in London, an ugly loss that put a severe dent in the Bills' playoff hopes.
3. Owning Darrelle Revis.
Watkins had a number of strong performances against the all-world cornerback, before Revis fell out of form last season. It became a talking point of Bills-Jets games, highlighted by Watkins' line of 11 catches for 136 yards in the 2015 season finale, a 22-17 Bills win that ended the Jets' playoff chances.
Revis refused to talk to reporters after the game.
4. "Y'all little jobs."
Watkins grew frustrated with his injuries in October 2015, and his emotions boiled over in the days after the London loss.
Watkins took to Instagram to blast fans he apparently felt were riding him too hard for his injuries, calling them "losers" who should "continue working y'all little jobs for the rest of y'all lives." He later took the post down from his feed.
"Just want to Thank all my fans for their support please don't retract yesterday's statement," Watkins posted the next day, seeming to ask for a retraction even though he wrote the opposite. "My frustration is wanting to help the team and win for the city of Buffalo and for my teammates. As a player we need critics and also fans that's apart of the game, majority of the negative comments were from other fans not the Bills fans. My comments were still inappropriate don't matter what fan or who others cheer for we all represent the NFL shield Therefore #letsgobuffalo"
5. The nagging foot injury.
The News reported in May 2016 that Watkins had undergone surgery for a broken bone in his foot, getting a screw put in about a month prior. Watkins responded by tweeting a photo of his feet in socks saying, "I'm good," but – feel free to use your best narrator voice – things were not good.
I'm ashy but I'm good lol 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/UMBajUU6tF
— King Me (@sammywatkins) May 16, 2016
Watkins was very limited in training camp due to the injury, and a report from one of Rex Ryan's favored New York outlets surfaced before the Bills-Jets Week Two game that said Watkins' injury could send him to the injured reserve.
Watkins played in a limited function against the Jets, but was held out the next two weeks before going on injured reserve at the end of the month, possibly because a lineman stepped on him during a walkthrough practice. He wouldn't play again until late November.
Watkins had another foot surgery this past offseason but hopes the injury is behind him now.
6. Making a circus catch to help win the Schwartz Reunion Bowl.
Some background on this one: The 2014 Bills started 2-0 by winning an overtime game against the Bears (capped by a beastly Fred Jackson run) and a field-goal fest against the Dolphins. But they fell to 2-2 before a Week Five meeting with Detroit. Head coach Doug Marrone, feeling the EJ Manuel train coming off the tracks, benched the second-year QB in favor of Orton. It was also a huge game for the Bills because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had been fired as the Lions' head coach the previous season.
The Bills fell behind 14-0 after Orton tossed an easy pick-6 in the second quarter. But Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson got injured, kicker Alex Henery missed three field goals and the Bills mounted a late comeback behind a Chris Gragg touchdown and a two-point conversion that tied the game.
The Lions had the ball in Bills' territory in the final minute, but Henery missed a 50-yarder with 26 seconds left that could've won the game. Orton threw behind Watkins on the Bills' first play, but the rookie receiver made a sensational catch, reaching behind him with his right hand and tipping the ball back in front of himself while running full speed. The 20-yard gain moved the Bills from their own 40 to the Lions' 40 and set up Dan Carpenter's winning 58-yard field goal. (Watch the catch here.)
The Bills carried Schwartz off the field. The Lions cut Henery the following day.
7. Demanding targets.
In October 2015, in the same week as the "if it pops, it pops" line, Watkins said he had talked to his agent about being a bigger part of the Bills offense.
"I need the ball at least 10 times — I need 10 targets — and I’ll be fine with however many yards I get," Watkins said. "And that’s what I addressed in talking with my agent. We reached out to a couple people and tried to pull some strings like, ‘Hey, I need my targets. You came up to draft me and I’m not getting targets — that’s a problem. You’re making me look bad and you’re making yourself look bad. Why not make both of us look good?’”
Honorable mention: The trade up.
This one doesn't feel totally fair to include since Watkins didn't really have a role in this, but you can't mention his tenure in Buffalo without mentioning what the Bills gave up to get him.
Then-GM Doug Whaley made a rash move for the here-and-now at the 2014 draft, sending Cleveland the Bills' 2014 and 2015 first-round picks, plus their 2015 fourth-rounder, to move up five places in the draft, from ninth overall to fourth.
"The draft room erupted when Watkins' name was announced," The News wrote at the time. "The scouts applauded. Whaley took a deep, satisfying breath. Brandon pumped his fist in victory."
Watkins obviously had elite talent, but it was an awful steep price to pay. The move only looks worse in hindsight, thanks to receivers who went later in the first round, like Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, outperforming Watkins' stats through their first three seasons. Khalil Mack, the all-pro edge rusher out of UB who held his pro day at the Bills' facility, was also available at fourth overall.
In the end, injuries kept Watkins from becoming the player Whaley had hoped for. The only way he can help end the Bills' playoff drought now is if the pieces he was swapped for – cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams' 2018 second-round pick – get them there.