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Why can't Sammy Watkins be Bills' DeAndre Hopkins?

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FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts -- Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins left Gillette Stadium quietly on Monday, away from a large horde of teammates or the steady trickle of fast-walking assistant coaches making their way to the bus.

It was a breezy 50-yard walk from the locker room, and one that might be all the more difficult for Watkins if he took that time to contemplate his role in this Buffalo offense. He is a gamer, and has always been the most spectacular player on the field. There is a chance he was the best athlete on the field again Monday in a 20-13 loss to the Patriots, but outside of a breathtaking one-handed catch with less than seven minutes to go, we saw and heard little from the player that was ranked ahead of Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin on most team's big boards heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.

He did not receive a single target in the first half, and at one moment, appeared visibly frustrated with Tyrod Taylor's decision not to try him on an early go route.

"Some plays, we just didn't make the plays," Watkins told reporters afterward. "We've got to make them. We've got to hit those throws and we've got to catch the ball. I don't think we executed those plays."

Watkins, who has already said his peace on the matter, is in this predicament because he's unlucky, right? He was drafted by a certain general manager to provide a certain coach and quarterback a playmaker that could take a certain offense to the next level. Now, almost all of those people and systems are gone -- or at least benched. Watkins is the square peg in the round hole.

But as this season wanes, the excuses made for his lack of targets will sound increasingly ridiculous.

Watkins was shouted down by the "team first" brigade when he said quite honestly that he'd like about 10 targets per game. That has not happened once this season and, outside of an eight-catch, 168-yard performance against the Dolphins two weeks ago, his numbers have been largely pedestrian.

Against the Jets, he made a beautiful game-sealing catch on a picture perfect route. It was one of his three catches for 14 yards. Monday night, the one handed catch came after so many missed opportunities that it felt almost unnecessary.

It's curious when a team cannot get their star wide receiver the ball. We're told teams are rolling coverage at Watkins, or that Watkins is also a great blocker. He's a wonderful decoy -- a line I've personally bought hook, line and sinker in the past -- and as long as he does those things well, the Bills will be fine.

It leads to quotes like this from Monday:

"I was supposed to come back for one ball and get the pass interference and I didn't. And then, I got coached up, and the second time I came back and got the pass interference. So it's little plays like that, that are hidden. I should've done it the first time, gotten that P.I., and we would've been on the 20- or 30-yard line going in."

Watkins' response should be to check out DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best receiver in football this year and arguably a player that is not as talented as Watkins.

Here are Hopkins' target numbers through 10 games: 13, 11, 14, 22, 14, 15, 12, 11, 11, 12. He has five 100-plus yard games and three 140-plus yard games.

Here are the quarterbacks that have been throwing passes in his direction this season: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and T.J. Yates.

Tyrod Taylor is better than these quarterbacks. Rex Ryan keeps saying not to downplay the ability of his quarterback and we aren't. He completes almost 70 percent of his passes. He throws way more touchdowns than he does interceptions. Quarterbacks coach David Lee and offensive coordinator Greg Roman should take a bow there. It was a fine example of advanced pro scouting and a great example of how a coach can marry scheme and ability.

Why can't the same be said for Watkins?

The Bills' lonely march out of Gillette on Monday night may have been their best chance to deliver a signature win this season. Luckily for them, they are still in a good enough spot to make the playoffs and have games against the Chiefs, Texans, Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys and Jets to finish the season.

It's not a gauntlet, but it absolutely can be if the best weapon they have is only used for one frame on a highlight reel, left to wonder why he's not getting the ball.

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