Sammy Watkins was many things for the Chiefs last season. A primary target for Patrick Mahomes until suffering a foot injury in the regular season, and a top weapon in the playoffs, when he averaged 17.6 yards per reception.
As organized team activities, or OTAs, moved to the practice field this week, Watkins wanted to expand his role even further:
To team leader.
“Lead and try to do all the right things so the young guys can look to me and say, ‘This guy does everything right, he finishes the reps, uplifts everyone, brings energy to practice every day,’” Watkins said. “That’s my focus now.”
The conditions are right for this step as Watkins enters his sixth season in the NFL and second with the Chiefs. He’s not the youngster who starred with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie and followed that with his lone 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, or the person who tweeted about being a reptile — metaphorically — last spring.
He enters this spring camp as the team’s most established wide receiver in the absence of Tyreek Hill, who isn’t taking part in any Chiefs activities while investigations into allegations about child abuse and neglect continue.
Watkins leads the position group in drills, and is attempting to strengthen his voice among wide receivers and the team.
“I’m a quiet guy, kind of humble,” Watkins said. “I’d sit back and observe. I have to push past that, to be a leader and speak up. I have to do the right things on and off the field.”
Watkins got a lesson in leadership three weeks ago from Mahomes. The team was running sprints, and Watkins, one of the team’s fastest players, wasn’t winning.
“He kind of got on me a little bit,” Watkins said. “I wasn’t coming in first in sprints when I should be.”
Did the, uh, encouragement work?
“Next day, I came in first about every time,” Watkins said “He looked at me like, yeah, and I looked back and said, ‘Yeah, I’m on it bro.’”
The uncertainty of Hill elevates Watkins’ status. He leads a receiving corps that includes fellow veterans Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp and Gehrig Dieter.
With their first draft selection, the Chiefs took speedy wide receiver Mecole Hardman in the second round. And coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach have praised former Kansas State standout Byron Pringle, who came to the team as an undrafted free agent and was making progress last preseason before suffering a hamstring injury.
All signs point to bigger things from Watkins, who finished last season with 40 receptions, three touchdowns and a 13-yards-per-catch average in 10 regular-season games.
“Their chemistry is good,” Reid said of Watkins and Mahomes. “For both of them, everything is a little bit easier, their verbiage, sorting things out. For Sammy the routes are more familiar, he kind of knows how to set them up.
“(Watkins) has worked very hard this off season. He looks tremendous right now.”
By design. Doing the right things in the offseason for Watkins also meant cleaning up his diet.
“As a young guy, you just freaking eat everything, hamburgers, everything,” Watkins said. “As I get older, my weight fluctuates up and down. I’m really trying to have balanced meal plan. Get the right rest come here every day and put all my energy, my soul and my spirit into what I do.”