Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 draft, has been targeted on only 13.7 percent of the routes he has run through the first five games. There are 155 NFL players with enough of a workload to qualify who have been targeted more frequently. Four of those players reside on Watkins' own team: Tyler Higbee (22.3 percent), Cooper Kupp (21.5 percent), Todd Gurley (21.0 percent) and Robert Woods (18.1 percent).
"As a player, of course, you know, you're frustrated," Watkins said Wednesday. "I don't know a player or a wide receiver who would not be frustrated through the game if you're not getting the ball. But that's the game. And each week, it can change."
Watkins knows that well. He made six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 21, then totaled only six targets against the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks in back-to-back weeks. Against the Cowboys, Watkins didn't get a ball thrown in his direction through the game's first 50 minutes. Against the Seahawks, he went without a catch for only the second time in his 42-game NFL career.
On one deep shot, Watkins pulled up before finishing his route.
And after the game was over, he had an eyebrow-raising exchange with prolific former Rams receiver Torry Holt.
Something gotta be going on 🤐
— King Me (@sammywatkins) October 9, 2017
Rams coach Sean McVay spoke to Watkins about his social-media activity -- he also retweeted fans who vouched for him to get more targets -- and didn't appear to think much of it.
"I think he was more just responding to those things," McVay said, "and he knows that he'll do the right things moving forward."
The deep ball that he appeared to give up on "wasn't an effort thing," Watkins said, adding that he simply reacted incorrectly to the way Seahawks safety Earl Thomas approached the play. The Rams have so far raved about Watkins' attitude and demeanor. He hasn't been a problem in that way.
"He's a really good dude and a guy that cares about the team and is very unselfish," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "I think he's going to come out of this on the right side."
A bigger issue is how the Rams can take advantage of their most dynamic pass-catching weapon without it interrupting the flow of their offense; how they can keep Watkins involved without forcing Goff to go outside of himself.
"He's a really important part of our offense and a guy that we do want to get the football to," Goff said. "But by no means do I want to change the way I approach each play."
The Rams didn't acquire Watkins until the second week of August, the day before their first preseason game. They gave up a starting-caliber cornerback in E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick in next year's draft, even though Watkins was entering the final year of his rookie contract. But they needed an outside vertical threat for a pass-catching unit devoid of players who can consistently beat defenses over the top.
Watkins, though, has been mostly a decoy, with 14 catches on 20 targets and 211 receiving yards, a total surpassed by 54 players, six of them running backs.
Watkins asserted that he has the playbook "down," but admitted that "sometimes I'm confused" with the looks opposing defenses are giving the Rams.
"Sometimes they do something totally opposite to what we're looking for," Watkins said. "So for me it's just to continue to go out there, play hard. I'm happy, I'm healthy, and my goal is just to put everything on film and just continue to stack up wins and win games."
Does he see a path to an increased role in the offense?
"I don't know," Watkins said. "I'm just trying to help this team win games. For me, it's just to keep on coming out each week and setting a standard as a wideout. And just competing. That's my focus, to put everything on film. And hopefully me and Jared will start clicking."
Watkins racked up 125 catches for 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns despite missing three games in his first two years, from 2014 to 2015. A foot injury forced Watkins to sit out half the season in 2016, then played a part in the Bills declining to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Now he'll face his former coach in Doug Marrone, who steers a Jacksonville Jaguars team that features arguably the NFL's best pass defense.
Marrone coached Watkins as a rookie and described him as someone with "unbelievable explosion, very strong hands, a very defined route runner." There were stretches when Watkins lacked targets, but Marrone said he "handled it like a pro." Last week, Watkins talked about how he has matured beyond complaining to the media about his lack of targets. But he also said, "We're winning, so it's not a bad thing. Now, if we lose, I might be upset."
The Rams lost, and McVay, who calls the offensive plays, put the burden of Watkins' lacking targets on himself.
"I think people have a tendency to blame the quarterback on getting guys involved," McVay said. "That, to me, is on me as a playcaller."
The Rams, McVay added, will "continue to try to find ways to get the ball in Sammy's hands. He will be a good player for us, and these last couple weeks I don't believe are indicative of his production for the rest of the season."
Watkins was asked if there's more urgency to get targets and put up numbers because it is a contract year.
"I think I've got enough money," Watkins said, smiling. "I just want to have fun and ball. I want to be a part of this team. It's a great team. I know what they're about to be at in [future] years with Coach McVay and his staff. I just want to be a part and make plays."