LOS ANGELES — Sammy Watkins just thought he had the hot hand. He was targeted with the first three plays from scrimmage in the Buffalo Bills‘ first preseason game on Thursday, then returned to the locker room later that night and was told he had been traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
“They were targeting me pretty quick,” Watkins said. “And then after the game I was like, ‘Oh, I probably was out there auditioning.'”
Watkins was acquired in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in next year’s draft. He called the deal “a total shock,” but also “a blessing.”
Watkins flew west on Saturday and arrived at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum three hours before his new team would face the Dallas Cowboys in its preseason opener. The 24-year-old wide receiver still hadn’t sat down with his new coach, Sean McVay, or his new quarterback, Jared Goff, and he has no idea how he will fit in this offense.
But he does know one thing.
“I’m a hundred percent healthy,” Watkins said. “The foot thing is out the door. I probably need to get in a little bit better shape. Other than that, I’m fine.”
Watkins is coming off two foot surgeries, in the spring of 2016 and in January of 2017. He also had hip surgery after his rookie season in 2014 and dealt with a few smaller ailments throughout 2015, but has mostly been unrestricted in training camp.
The Bills initially gave up two first-round picks and a fourth rounder to draft Watkins fourth overall three years ago, but a new regime declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, setting him up for free agency at the end of this season.
Rams general manager Les Snead said Friday that he “definitely” wants to figure something out long term with Watkins.
“I gotta handle my business and control what I can control,” Watkins said. “If I go out there and have a year that I’m expecting to have, then we can talk contract. But I still gotta go out there and do my job and let those guys handle the paperwork, contract, numbers.”
At full health, Watkins gives the Rams the outside vertical threat they so desperately need. His ability to take the top off a coverage should open things up in the middle of the field for the likes of Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin and Robert Woods, his former teammate with the Bills.
Among receivers with at least 100 catches over the last three years, Watkins ranks fourth in yards per catch.
“I just feel like that’s been my game,” Watkins said. “I can be that home-run guy.”
Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2014, then caught for 900 yards over the last nine games in 2015, finishing the season with over 1,000 yards. But serious foot issues kept Watkins out of half the games in 2016, a season that finished with only 28 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking in front of the Rams’ locker room on Saturday, Watkins expressed excitement about joining a McVay offense that he previously saw “open it up a lot with a lot of wide receivers” in Washington.
Watkins was asked if he can benefit from a fresh start, and he smiled.
“Just being in L.A. can help me out,” Watkins said. “Nice city, nice weather.”