KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Based off the 4.43-second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL scouting combine a few years ago, Sammy Watkins should win most races against the other Kansas City Chiefs veteran wide receivers, particularly with Tyreek Hill not competing because of his suspension.
But Watkins wasn’t winning the receiver sprints at a recent workout, prompting quarterback Patrick Mahomes to call him out for a lack of effort.
“It was a good thing because the next day I came in first just about almost every rep,” Watkins said. “[Mahomes] looked at me like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I got it, bro. I’m on it.’
“He’s the leader now. He kind of got on me a little bit, but that’s what we need from a guy that leads this team.”
Mahomes and the Chiefs need the best version of Watkins at least as long as Hill, who has been suspended indefinitely while authorities investigate his role in a child abuse case, remains out.
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Hill’s absence leaves Watkins unchallenged as the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver. Their other top wideouts include Demarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman, their top draft pick.
Watkins was Kansas City’s third-leading receiver behind tight end Travis Kelce and Hill last season in his first year with the Chiefs and Mahomes.
“Their chemistry is good,” Reid said of Watkins and Mahomes. “For both of those two, everything is a little bit easier — all the verbiage, sorting it out and getting to where you’ve got to go. For Sammy, the routes are familiar and he kind of knows how to set them up and Patrick knows what he’s going to do against different coverages. So that’s been positive.”
Watkins’ first season with the Chiefs was most notable for a foot injury that prevented him from playing in six games. He caught 40 passes for 519 yards and three touchdowns.
Those numbers aren’t horrible considering Watkins was learning a new system and Mahomes also had to feed Kelce and Hill, among others. But they aren’t what the Chiefs expected when they signed him to a three-year, $48 million contract.
For that money, the Chiefs expect Watkins to produce big numbers and win his wind sprints, among other things.
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He recently promised on his Twitter account that he will have his best season and said he’s “sacrificing everything” to become that kind of player.
“My time,” Watkins said when asked what he’s sacrificing. “You can easily come here and do the right things, but are we doing the right things at home as far as watching film, eating the right things, taking care of your body. As a young guy, you can just … eat everything, hamburgers and everything. As I get older, I’m kind of like, man, my weight fluctuates up and down. I’m trying to really have a balanced meal plan and get the right rest and come here every day and put all my energy and my soul and my spirit into what I do.”
Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, won’t turn 26 until June 14, but his five NFL seasons leave him as the veteran among Chiefs’ wideouts. Other than Hill and Watkins, only the 24-year-old Robinson has significant NFL playing experience.
Watkins said that unlike last season, he’s planning to share his experience with the Chiefs’ many young receivers.
“You come to a team and you kind of sit back, try to observe,” Watkins said. “Now I’m just open with love and just trying to learn and continue to get better and every day bring that leadership mentality, speaking up in meetings. … I’m just really trying to focus on being a little more outspoken in trying to speak up for myself and do the right things.
“I’m a quiet guy, kind of humble. I kind of sit back and observe, I think. I’ve got to push past that. I’ve got to be that leader and speak up. … It’s been a great challenge.”
The Chiefs would settle for having Watkins fulfill his immense potential. Mahomes said he likes what he has seen of Watkins in offseason practice, one bad day of running sprints aside.
“He’s slimmed down,” Mahomes said. “He’s running really fast. He still has that power that you see every Sunday. For him to be out here working hard and you see it every single day, just stacking on top of each other, you know he’s primed and ready to go out there this season.”