Was the Sammy Watkins Trade worth it? That was the question posed to Andre Reed, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, James Lofton and Eric Moulds for Sunday's story in The Buffalo News. The four Hall of Famers and Bills great all offered pointed analysis on Watkins' rare talent, injuries, drive and more.
In truth, this question is linked to the one posed earlier this offseason to former quarterbacks: Is Tyrod Taylor is a franchise quarterback.
So often a NFL wide receiver is only as great as his quarterback. And, oh, Brown and Moulds know this well.
During his Hall of Fame speech, Brown cited all 19 players that threw him the ball. Jerry Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young. Andre Reed had Jim Kelly. Marvin Harrison had Peyton Manning. Brown? He was constantly adjusting to different quarterbacks throughout his 17-year career and still managed to catch 1,094 balls for 14,934 yards with 105 touchdowns. Eric Moulds? He isn't in the Hall of Fame but he adapted to constant change at quarterback, too.
Heck, his starting quarterback changed the week before a playoff game. "Miracles" ensued.
While it's clear Sammy Watkins is a rare talent with rare physical gifts, it's not so clear if Tyrod Taylor is the Bills' long-lost, post-Jim Kelly savior at quarterback. The two certainly found chemistry the second half of last season, a promising sign. The fact that Taylor hit Watkins on a slew of short-to-intermediate routes in Buffalo's Week 17 win vs. Darrelle Revis is also promising. But there's a reason Watkins was so frustrated a month into last season --- he saw the quarterbacks throwing the ball to Odell Beckham Jr., to Julio Jones, to other star receivers.
Whether or not Taylor is the answer, Brown and Moulds are proof that a receiver can excel with turbulent QB play.
As Brown joked in our roundtable, "I don't want to hear it. ... When he gets to No. 20 and No. 21 (quarterback), then I’ll listen to him." It takes a rare focus.
"My focus was always on being the best I could possibly be," Brown said. "And I knew that couldn’t happen unless I was on the same page as the guys throwing the ball. So whoever it was — a young guy or old guy — I always found a way to know what this guy wanted to do or didn’t want to do on the field.”
This took extra work in the offseason, he added, and knowing precisely what the quarterback "was weak at."
"I knew this about every quarterback — no matter how weak or strong they were — when they get in trouble, where are they looking to throw the ball? In the middle of the field," Brown said. "They’re not looking to throw the ball out to the sideline because it could get picked off. So when people got in trouble, I’d always tell them, ‘Hey, I’m your guy. When you get in trouble, look me up. I’m in the middle of the field.’”
Moulds admits he still thinks about how his career trajectory would've changed if he had a proven quarterback year in and year out. Instead, Buffalo trotted out eight different starters during his 10 seasons.
"It seemed like every two weeks I was playing with a different guy," he said.
The deep ball is something Taylor and Watkins can build on. The wideout's 17.5 yards per reception tied Jacksonville's Allen Robinson for No. 1 among receivers with at least 60 catches. Moulds loves the fact that Watkins uses a "V" release off the line to accelerate into his go route, instead of the "U" release that so often derails first- and second-year receivers.
“As a young receiver, you have a tendency to go wide and try to out-run everybody," Moulds elaborated. "But college and the NFL are totally different. Everybody in the National Football League can run and the corners understand that if they can push you wide, that’ll make it a difficult throw for your quarterback. You’re not going to have that much grass to throw the football, to stick it in there.
"We really haven’t seen his potential yet. I think if they get a consistent guy back there — and he knows what he’s reading and how he’s throwing the football — that’ll make Sammy’s job easier to get open. If you are constantly changing guys back there, he’s constantly adjusting his routes as opposed to having a guy every down where he knows how he throws the football. He knows how it’s going to come to him, so it makes his job a lot easier."
We can talk about Sammy Watkins all day. We can ask wide receivers past and present about his game. Moulds says Watkins is better than Beckham, too.
Quite possibly, the key for Watkins is Taylor proving he's the real deal. Brown found a way to make due and earn a bust in Canton; Moulds persevered, too. But a consistent performer at quarterback will take Watkins' game to a different stratosphere.
Moulds likes him, though believes the Bills should keep their options open.
“I think he has tremendous upside," Moulds said of Taylor. "If you give him the next two, three, four years to really see the kind of quarterback he is, you’ll know in the next three years if Tyrod Taylor is the guy. I think what Buffalo has to do if they really want to do anything is give him this year and next year to see what kind of quarterback you’ve got. And you’re still trying to improve your team. You may draft a quarterback. You may look at free agency. You’re always going to have to have competition at the quarterback position.
"You can’t have a guy just sitting there and not have competition and have him say ‘I have this job locked up the next three or four years’ with no pressure on him. So you’re always creating competition to try to bring out the best in the player.”