As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Life would be pretty good for Sammy Watkins, one of the nation’s most explosive players, if not for a spring arrest concerning marijuana. Now, while Watkins did everything that was asked of him in order to return himself to good standing at Clemson, he’s still out for the first two games of the season. Which is why he appears here at number five, instead of higher (a good case could’ve been made for him to be the best player in the ACC). But if you’re worried about Watkins’s performance at all this year, forget it. Even in just 10 regular season games, he still may put up some of the nation’s most impressive numbers.
Watkins burst onto the scene like a bat out of hell last year, notching 28 catches and six scores in his first four collegiate games. The 4.40 40-yard dash sprinter could not be stopped. A jack-of-all-trades, he not only made defenders pay in the passing game, but on runs and kick returns as well. And this year, he’s adding punt returns to the repertoire, too. Take a look at this video of his 89-yard kickoff return touchdown against Maryland last season. Anyone else startled by how easy that looked? The Florida native is a natural athlete, gifted and quick, without so much as breaking a sweat. It’s no surprise that neutralizing him slowed the Tigers’ offense significantly last year either, as two of their four losses came in his most underwhelming performances (another loss was experienced with him out of the lineup completely).
So what’s the conference’s leader in all-purpose yards going to do for an encore? Well, for right now, just stay focused while missing the team’s first two games. As he says in this interview with Orange and White, he’s down about missing the Auburn game, but remains focused on the task at hand: being the best he can be for Clemson and helping the team win. There’s no doubt Clemson will again be a bit out of sync without Watkins in the lineup, but it may actually end up being a good thing. Without game film from this season, their week three opponent (Furman) will virtually be going in cold. Even Florida State, who faces off with the Tigers the week after, won’t be entirely sure on Watkins’s improvement over last season. Does it provide much of an advantage for Clemson? No, probably not. I’m sure they’d rather have their best playmaker in the game at all times. But then again, can anyone truly game-plan to stop Watkins anyway? The Heisman may be out of reach, but expect him to still put up the type of numbers that will again put opposing defenses on notice.