• 周一. 1月 24th, 2022
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Night net Patience is a virtue, or so the saying goes. For Night net general managers and coaches waiting for a top draft pick to reach his potential, patience is often in short supply.Case in point: Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who Buffalo drafted fourth overall in the 2014 draft and traded a couple first-rounders to move up and get him. Now, after the 23-year-old has battled injuries and inconsistency with shaky quarterback play over his first couple seasons, the Bills need to be patient. Visions of players like Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson danced in the minds of Bills execs as they saw the complete package of size, speed, hands and athleticism in Watkins. But they have been second-guessed by fans and media as Watkins has not played up to superstar expectations. Not helping the optics of Watkins' early career is it coinciding with another receiver from the 2014 class, Odell Beckham Jr., who has been tearing up the Night net just down the road in New York/New Jersey.STEELE: Ranking Night net's top 10 wide receivers Watkins' numbers over his first two seasons — 125 total catches for 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns — would be considered good had he not been picked so high … and if he didn't have Beckham as the clear receiving star of the class thus far.Beckham was selected eight spots after Watkins but has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons off his outstanding production — 187 receptions for 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns. Beckham plays with a very good quarterback in Eli Manning, and after working with suspect QBs in Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel during his rookie year, Watkins was paired with an emerging quarterback in Tyrod Taylor last season but still had to toil in a run-first offense.Watkins certainly is not the only top five pick to be under current scrutiny for his performance early in his career. Other recent high draftees in similar spots include tackles Eric Fisher (Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jaguars) and Greg Robinson (Rams), along with defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (Texans) and Dion Jordan (Dolphins). And as an example of a high pick becoming a bust, Browns fans will point to running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in 2012 who is now on his fourth team.Because wide receiver is among the positions at which players require the least development time, expectations ratchet up for a player like Watkins.Speaking of expectations, the Bills think the playoffs are in sight this season after going 8-8 in coach Rex Ryan's first year with Buffalo. They know a healthy and highly-productive Watkins is one of the keys to their potential success, along with Taylor's continued improvement.MORE: Taylor turning Bills QB nightmare into dream (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/c7/dd/taylor-watkins-071916-gettyjpg_iu2wy9lpuznc1fpbdwfhf9d9p.jpg?t=62838438&w=500&quality=80 Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins (Getty Images)Watkins must get healthy before he can think about further elevating his game with Taylor, and his latest injury surely has Bills execs, coaches and fans nervous. He had offseason surgery on a broken bone in his foot and is at the point in his rehab where he's running straight ahead with little-to-no cutting. The Bills hope he'll be ready for training camp, but they will limit his August reps and preseason game action in hopes of having him 100 percent for the regular season.Injuries have been an issue for Watkins early in his career, as he missed three games last season with calf and ankle problems before the fractured foot surfaced this offseason. This is another test of patience for the Bills.MORE: How close are the Bills to a Super Bowl?In my years as Vikings GM, we dealt with similar injury concerns and underproduction early in the career of running back Robert Smith, our first-round pick in 1993. Smith missed eight games over his first two seasons with assorted knee problems, including a torn ACL. It was obvious he had the talent but only produced 505 rushing yards and 216 receiving yards in those two years. He showed moderate improvement in his next two seasons with rushing totals of 692 yards in 1995 and 632 yards in 1996, but he missed 15 games in that period.We worried he would never be able to stay healthy enough to play

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up to his first-round status over multiple seasons. While it was a struggle to do so, we stayed patient and were ultimately rewarded. In 1997, despite Smith missing two games with injuries, he rushed for 1,266 yards and an eye-popping 5.5 yards per carry.Then we faced a major decision when Smith hit free agency. We put the transition tag on him, which guaranteed the average salary of the top 10 running backs and gave us the ability to match any offers. When Seattle floated a five-year, $25 million deal that would void after three years if he met certain incentives, we had to decide if we had confidence that Smith could stay healthy and be worthy of one of the top RB salaries in the league.MORE: Night net general manager rankings for 2016My stomach was churning as I called Smith's agent and said we would match the deal. I was more nervous about that contract than any deal I had done in my career. But Smith came through with three straight thousand-yard seasons, including his best year in 2000, when he led the NFC in rushing with 1,521 yards (and added 348 yards on 36 receptions with 10 total touchdowns).The Bills might face a similar contract decision with Watkins soon. They'll have to decide after this season whether to exercise his fifth-year option, which would guarantee the contract for injury and require him to be tendered at the average of the 10 highest-paid wide receivers for the 2018 season. Then they could sign him to a long-term deal after the 2017 season, and if Watkins has a couple of great years, he'll be looking to surpass deals signed last year by Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, all in the range of five-year extensions for $70 million with approximately $45 million guaranteed. And Watkins surely would have an eye on the blockbuster deal Beckham is likely to receive from the Giants.But that's all incumbent on Watkins becoming one of the Night net's better receivers. It's a good sign that he stayed in Buffalo this summer to rehab and prepare himself mentally for his critical third season.MORE: Predicting the AFC: Can Buffalo compete?Watkins can take heart in knowing his production over his first two seasons is almost identical to that of Calvin Johnson with the Lions. The second overall pick in the 2007 draft, Johnson had 126 receptions for 2,087 yards and 16 TDs in 2007 and 2008 combined — just one more catch, 58 more yards and one more TD than Watkins in his first two seasons. As he hit his peak in his fifth and sixth seasons, Johnson's numbers elevated to 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 TDs in 2011, then a league-leading 122 catches for 1,964 yards and 5 TDs in 2012.If Watkins achieves that or close to that level, the Bills will be happy they stayed patient. And Watkins likely will have caught up with Beckham and the other top receivers, production-wise and financially.Jeff Diamond is the former president of the Titans and the former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected Night net Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNight net.

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