INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The accolades flow freely and easily.
The talent that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins brings to the NFL is rare, which would also make it special.
And Mike Mayock of the NFL Network couldn’t stop gushing when asked about Watkins in a recent conference call.
“He’s got a little attitude about him,” Mayock said. “He blocks people. You can see him getting (angry) during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers.
“So he’s got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is, and when you combine that with his physical ability I think it’s awesome.”
In the NFL, receivers aren’t supposed to go Top 10. But the last time the pundits gushed this much about a receiver coming out of college was when Calvin Johnson left Georgia Tech. That hype also came from the pro scouts and GMs themselves. Every one said Johnson would change the game. He has. Just as Green has changed the Bengals.
Which leads to the inevitable question facing any team picking in the top five of this year’s draft: Why not Sammy Watkins?
Count the Cleveland Browns among the teams facing that question.
If a team can pair a guy compared to A.J. Green with Josh Gordon, why not do it? Imagine the nightmares for defensive coordinators, especially when the ability of tight end Jordan Cameron is added to the equation. The Browns would have two guys who could break a big play at any time.
Watkins had 3,391 receiving yards in three seasons at Clemson, including 12 touchdowns on 101 catches last season. He runs a 10.5 100-meter dash, he’s 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and claims he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at Clemson (yes, take that time with a grain of salt).
He’s amazingly quick. He has good hands. He plays football.
“What makes him such a great football player? It's all the other elements," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not his height, weight, speed. It's all the other stuff that's part of his makeup, his gifts.”
Taking him with the No. 4 pick would mean passing on a quarterback in the top three, but the unmistakeable buzz at the combine this week from NFL coaches and GMs is that they are wary of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class.
All have ability, but all have questions -- to the point that many wonder if they will be selected high, not because they are dominant players, but because they play quarterback.
The questions, too, seem legitimate, beyond the annual rite of finding something wrong with every draftable player.
Johnny Manziel is hit or miss, too small or flawed fundamentally with his whirling dervish moves that worked in college but might not work in the NFL.
Teddy Bridgewater's lean frame brings his durability into question, and his arm motion is a little quirky.
Blake Bortles has the size and arm strength, but he needs a couple years to develop.
They’re all “yeah, but” guys similar to the quarterback class that included Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert going in the first round -- not because they were the best players to take at those spots, but because they were quarterbacks.
Do the Browns want to roll the dice with the fourth pick with a guy who has legitimate questions?
Teams spend hours studying players and going over reams of information, then when they get to the draft they go away from their philosophy of best player available because a guy plays quarterback. NFL teams constantly tout “innovation” and “innovative thinking,” yet rebel against Watkins because the Browns have Gordon.
Having two outstanding receivers would spread the field, open up things for a running back, help an efficient quarterback like Brian Hoyer. A quarterback selected 26th or in the second or third rounds could be groomed to follow a guy like Hoyer.
It might mean something or nothing, but the Browns met or will meet with two quarterbacks expected to be taken later in the draft: Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Browns aren’t tipping their hand, and the draft is 10 weeks away. Watkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina are considered instant hits.
Clowney would be tough to pass up.
Watkins should be.