College Spotlight: Tuesday Afternoon Prospect

Streeter Lecka

For the next sixteen weeks, I will be featuring a standout college prospect who would look very nice in a Panthers uniform come 2014. I thought it would be appropriate to begin this inaugural season long journey by taking a closer look at a very familiar face here in ACC country.

College football and the NFL go hand in hand. For better or for worse, they are linked together like peanut butter and jelly. Today's heralded prospects will become the next in a long line of tomorrow's NFL busts, Hall of Fame inductees and everything in between. So in the spirit of highlighting a current college standout, with an eye on his potential at the next level, I give you my very first prospect.

The 2010 college football season was forgettable in many ways for head coach Dabo Swinney. After all, he had just finished leading the Clemson Tigers to their first losing season in twelve years. Frankly, this proud football program was reeling when they reeled in a crucial commitment from a highly touted, 5 star receiver out of Fort Meyers, Florida by the name of Sammy Watkins.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound prospect wasted little time breathing new life into death valley as he and sophomore receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, went about jump-starting not only the college career of first year starting quarterback, Tajh Boyd, but also the program itself. As a matter of fact, the Tigers finished with a 10-4 record, which was their first double digit winning season since 1990.

Individually, Watkins surpassed any and all expectations by the time his prolific freshman season had ended, and as a result, he was named the ACC Rookie of the Year. But that particular award was just the tip of the iceberg. Most notably, he was recognized as an AP First Team All-American, which put him in some rare company. Amazingly, only three other players have ever earned this distinguishing honor as a true freshman. Those players just so happen to be Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson. As you already know, each of these three guys are running backs who are either in the NFL Hall of Fame or on their way. The fact that Watkins is the first receiver to do so makes this feat all the more special and unique.

His encore performance was destined to be a failure the moment he was arrested for drug-related charges the following off-season. Watkins' was subsequently suspended by the team for the first two games of 2012, and was unable to regain his form in the shadow of Hopkins, who went on to have a breakout season of his own.

Fast forward to 2013. It was only been 2 weeks ago that a reinvigorated Watkins quickly placed last season in the rear view mirror as he put up an impressive one-hundred and twenty-seven yard performance to go along with a spectacular seventy-seven yard touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs. If Watkins continues to shine throughout this season, he will probably enter the 2014 draft, where he will likely be the first receiver taken.

When I look at Watkin's on film, I see a guy who has excellent size and near elite speed. He piles up yards after the catch, which is testament to his instinctual open field vision. Additionally, he uses his strong hands well to snatch balls in traffic. Although his route running needs some fine tuning, he is farther along in that important aspect than many of his college counterparts. Ultimately, Watkins reminds me of a more polished version of Cordarrelle Patterson, who was most recently selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL draft. Simply put, he is a legitimate threat to start day one at the next level.

Will the Carolina Panthers be in position to take this dynamic receiver? It's certainly too soon to tell. But from my perspective, it's never too early to imagine the possibilities, especially after that offensive debacle against Seattle.

Trust me. By season's end, you and I will be begging Gettleman to give Cam Newton some new receiving weapons. If it were up to me, I'd sign Hakeem Nicks in free agency and draft Watkins in the first round. A double dip of sorts. Our franchise quarterback deserves better than what he's been given thus far, and so do the fans. Besides, it's not every day that you get to draft a guy who, like his true freshman First Team All-American predecessors, is bound for the Hall of Fame.

2011 Statistics

Location Opponent Receptions Yards Average Touchdown
Home Troy 7 81 11.6 1
Home Wofford 4 56 14 1
Home Auburn 10 155 15.5 2
Home #23 Florida State 7 141 20.1 2
Away #21 Virginia Tech 3 38 12.7 0
Home Boston College 7 152 21.7 0
Away Maryland 8 105 13.1 2
Home North Carolina 8 91 11.4 1
Away Georgia Tech 10 159 15.9 1
Home Wake Forest 5 62 12.4 0
Away North Carolina State DNP DNP DNP DNP
Away #9 South Carolina 4 39 9.8 0
Neutral #21 Virginia Tech 5 80 16 1
Neutral #17 West Virginia 5 66 13.2 1
Total 83 1,225 14.76 12

2012 Statistics

Location Opponent Receptions Yards Average Touchdown
Neutral Auburn DNP DNP DNP DNP
Home Ball State DNP DNP DNP DNP
Home Furman 4 52 13 0
Away #10 Florida State 6 24 4 0
Away Boston College DNP DNP DNP DNP
Home Georgia Tech 6 42 7 0
Away Virginia Tech 8 84 10.5 0
Away Wake Forest 8 202 25.3 1
Away Duke 6 97 16.2 1
Home Maryland 4 60 15 0
Away North Carolina State 11 110 10 1
Away #8 South Carolina 4 37 9.25 0
Neutral #14 LSU 0 0 0 0
Total 57 708 12.4 3

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