As if Sammy Watkins' receiving skills weren't enough, his ability as a return man has only helped his value.
NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reports several teams interested in Watkins also envision using him as a kick returner and view his skills in that area as a "huge element" of his game. Watkins is the top wide receiver prospect in this draft, and it seems unlikely he would slide any lower than fifth to the Raiders.
Watkins (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) was Clemson's primary kick returner as a true freshman in 2011, averaging 25.6 yards on 33 attempts. He also had one return touchdown, and it was a big factor in a wild 56-45 win over Maryland in which the Tigers rallied from 18 down. The return came midway through the fourth quarter and gave Clemson the lead for good.
But Watkins returned just 27 kickoffs in his final two seasons at Clemson and never showed the same type of explosiveness he did as a freshman; he averaged 20.4 yards on those 27 returns. Watkins also returned six punts in his Clemson career but managed just 23 yards on those returns.
Still, he has good speed and fluidity and exceptional quickness, and can stop on a dime and change directions -- all traits of a big-time return man.
Watkins isn't expected to be the first-overall pick to the Texans, but of the other teams that pick in the top five, Jacksonville -- which picks third - - looks to be the only one that doesn't need a new return man. Jordan Todman (27.3 yards per return) thrived in that role for the Jags last season, but Watkins still might be an upgrade. St. Louis (which picks second), Cleveland (fourth) and Oakland (fifth) could use a boost at kick returner.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.