IRVINE, Calif. -- Nickell Robey-Coleman still remembers that game in Kansas City. Sammy Watkins' ankle had been bothering him, but it was late November in 2015, and his Buffalo Bills were very much in the playoff hunt. Watkins torched the Chiefs that Sunday, catching six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, all of it in the first half. He beat Sean Smith over the top for a 48-yard catch, tip-toed the sidelines for a third-down conversion, caught a 28-yard touchdown over his back shoulder, outmuscled Ron Parker to haul in another deep ball in double coverage and leapt over Smith for a 21-yard touchdown that stunned the opposing crowd.
"That’s when I really seen him at his best," said Robey-Coleman, Watkins' teammate on the Bills these past three years before he signed with Los Angeles in April. "He was like in 'go' mode."
Robey-Coleman and Watkins will now be reunited with the Los Angeles Rams, by virtue of the Friday trade that sent cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick to Buffalo. Watkins gives the Rams a much-needed vertical threat to pair with a slot receiver in Cooper Kupp, a gadget receiver in Tavon Austin and a possession receiver in Robert Woods, who was also Watkins' teammate in Buffalo from 2014 to 2016. The Rams intend to eventually sign Watkins beyond this coming season and are hoping he can stay healthy.
When he is, Robey-Coleman said, "He’s up there with Odell Beckham.
"He's a true No. 1 in my eyes. He can do quick routes; he can do intermediate routes and he can stretch the field. Even when he’s not open, he’s still kind of open because he finds a way to catch the ball. He’s not dropping it. His hands are huge. And he’s fast."
Watkins and Beckham were part of the star-studded receiver class of 2014, which also included Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin. The Bills traded up to select Watkins fourth overall, then watched him catch 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
Then the injuries came.
Watkins dealt with nagging calf and ankle ailments in 2015, though he caught for 900 yards over the last nine games to register his first 1,000-yard season. In 2016, Watkins was never himself. He had foot surgery in the spring, missed half the year, caught for 28 passes for 430 yards in eight games, then had foot surgery again in January.
But Watkins returned to Bills drills in the middle of June and looked good while making four catches for 39 yards in limited time during Thursday's preseason opener.
The Rams seem to believe he's healthy again.
"I think that’s the biggest thing, to have a healthy Sammy out here," Woods said. "And I think we’ll have that this year."
Woods, now the No. 2 receiver, praised Watkins' strong hands and blazing speed. He believes Watkins' presence will force defenses to leave somebody over the top, allowing a lot of one-on-one matchups for himself, Kupp and Austin, whose role no longer seems solidified.
"It’s going to be hard to double guys," Robey-Coleman said. "That’s going to be key. It’s matchups. He’s going to be able to skew the matchup, because if you’ve got him on the backside, you’ve got Robert, Cooper and Tavon or somebody in there. You can’t double Robert. You might shift your focus onto Sammy, and it’s going to leave open stuff for Tavon, it’s going to leave open opportunities for Cooper and those guys. So if we can win those one-on-ones and beat those one-on-ones, it’s going to be something to see on offense."