Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer 296d

Sammy Watkins already linked to DeSean Jackson, Willie Mays

LOS ANGELES -- If Jared Goff and Sammy Watkins are still learning one another, it doesn't show.

Watkins has hauled in 92.9 percent of his passes from Goff, the highest percentage among those with at least 10 catches this season. Watkins, acquired from the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 11, has caught 13 of his 14 targets through the first three weeks, with six of those catches coming in the Los Angeles Rams' 41-39 win against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.

Watkins broke out for 106 yards and a couple of third-down touchdowns in that game, though he ended the night in concussion protocol and remained there through the weekend. On third-and-goal with less than a minute left in the third quarter, Watkins, stacked with Cooper Kupp, got free on a quick slant for a short score. On third-and-4 at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Goff hit Watkins underneath and watched him muscle his way in for a 13-yard touchdown.

But the most impressive play came earlier in the second half. Watkins, isolated on the outside, made an inside move on 49ers corner Dontae Johnson and went deep. Goff uncorked a long pass that was perfectly placed between Johnson and 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward. Watkins twisted his body, maintained his concentration and made an over-the-shoulder catch that went for 47 yards, the longest completion of Goff's career.

"Unbelievable," Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters on Friday. "Great body control. I heard the announcers say, 'Willie Mays-type catch,' where you're tracking it over your inside and then over your outside shoulder, kind of like a deep center fielder. Those are the types of plays that make Sammy a special player. That's why he is who he is."

The Rams sent a second-round pick for the 2018 draft and one of their best cornerbacks, E.J. Gaines, to the Bills in exchange for Watkins, who only has one season left on his rookie contract. They needed a true vertical threat on the outside; someone to free up more space underneath for the likes of Kupp, Robert Woods and Todd Gurley.

The Rams' only hope was for Watkins to remain healthy, but Watkins' concern was to learn the playbook. He arrived only four weeks before the season opener, but he basically grasped it all in that time. Watkins was staying up as late as 3 a.m. and getting two to three hours of sleep on most nights during the preseason. He said he was "over-studying," but he needed to be ready for all those times McVay would call on him in the meeting room.

Watkins was supposed to be McVay's new DeSean Jackson, and that is already showing itself.

"His ability to track the ball down the field is rare and elite, and I thought it was similar to some of those types of catches that I had seen DeSean make," McVay said, referencing Watkins' 47-yard grab. "Huge respect for Sammy being able to make that play. And it was really well defended actually, too."

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