The Sammy Watkins Effect
Don't be scared. Don't be alarmed. He is only emanating positivity. In Year 9, this wide receiver who may or may not be an alien could also be the X-Factor these Green Bay Packers need to win it all.
People have been gnawing at each other’s throats for a good two years now. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Perhaps you’ve even lost a few friends since the calendar flipped to 2020. And every time it appears the schism dividing our great country cuts deeper, I cannot help but think back to a night way back in early March of 2020, to a conversation that was easily the most psychedelic… yet fascinating, bizarre… yet enlightening of my life.
The man seated on the other side of the table at a restaurant just outside of Orlando was fresh off his shining moment. In Super Bowl LIV, it was Sammy Watkins who roasted Richard Sherman with 3:44 to go on the Kansas City Chiefs’ game-winning drive. Now, he was ready to tell the world how far he had come.
We started with a laugh. The first time the two of us met, in 2015, Watkins demanded 10 targets per game. As a champ, a man finding peace, Watkins unveiled just how debilitating those three Buffalo years were on both his body and mind for this Bleacher Report story. He admitted that he got “wasted wasted” every night and that all those drinks led to his litany of injuries. Those injuries then spiraled him into depression. He’d barricade himself in his basement to drink alone until 4 a.m. — more of a self-loathing ritual at that point — sleep two hours, wake up, head to the facility, eat, sleep, repeat as fans increasingly labeled him a bust.
The pride and joy of Fort Myers’ hardscrabble Dunbar area, “Little Pakistan,” felt like he was letting everyone down.
Then things got weird. Then he started breaking down etheric bodies and astral realms and… entities. Spirits, essentially, that are everywhere. They sift inside of me, you, everyone to live within our physical bodies. It’s on us to recognize them, Watkins explained, and do everything in our power to work with the positive spirits.
As you may recall, it was all of this research into such great unknowns that helped Sammy Watkins escape his darkness.
Our five-hour chat concluded with a chill, too. Watkins all but predicted chaos a few days before Covid was really Covid, before the general population knew much of anything about virus. “It's a new world coming,” he said then. “It's definitely coming. I don’t know what direction it’s going, but there's definitely a new order coming. I don’t know who’s going to be in control of it, but we’re in the Dark Ages right now. For sure.”
Soon after, panic swept through the country and it seems like the anger and discontent has only metastasized since.
When Watkins’ constellation of beliefs went live, the reaction was… loud.
Many mocked him. Many more expressed concern for his mental health. Even Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who Watkins viewed as a father figure, was asked what he thought about Watkins’ comments. I get it. These are not topics espoused in college lecture halls or church pews or the family dinner table or, hell, even your local bar 5 1/2 IPAs deep. When his life was in shambles, Watkins closed the blinds, locked the doors, ignored all texts and ventured miles upon miles into the depths of the Internet. He pushed his mind further… and further… and further to fight through his depression. Every possible religion. Geometry. Biology. Aliens. Physics. He obsessed over it all 24/7 for a good six months in 2017.
In one breath, he detailed how we all die in our sleep without even knowing, how we enter a different dimension where we’re able to manifest realities in the physical world. Like his 114-yard game vs. the Titans in an AFC Championship. The next breath, he assured you’ll be A-OK with those floating entities if you radiate positivity in your physical world. “All I put out is love,” Watkins said. “So if there's any entity around me that’s negative, or that’s evil, I couldn't care less about it.”
And that was the key.
Any manic alarm was misguided. This was never a man who needed his head examined. As so many others ‘round the country fell into an abyss of rage and fury and victimhood, Watkins continued to emerge happier than he’s been in his entire life. He believed then, as he does now, that he is in an extraordinary state of mind.
Which brings us to 2022.
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After two more seasons marred by injuries, he’s a Green Bay Packer. This ninth season with his fifth team could realistically serve as his magnum opus. A massive opportunity awaits because after another playoff dud in which an Aaron Rodgers-led offense manufactured all of 10 points at home — and after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders — GM Brian Gutekunst is wisely pivoting. The Packers will try to win with defense in 2022. Shrewd signings (think: De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas) combined with D-heavy drafts could produce a powerhouse unit in 2022. Finally, these Packers are ready for a bareknuckle fight of a playoff game.
Still, they’ll need to beat teams through the air to get there. (Those Vikings across the border sure aren’t hurting for weapons.) The wide receiver position is as wide open as its ever been in Rodgers’ career.
Someone must step up.
The ESP between Rodgers and Adams is now gone. Maybe Juwann Winfree is the darkhorse who leaps into a big role. Maybe rookie Christian Watson is able to prove scouts and history wrong. Traditionally, rookies do very little as a Rodgers receiver. They’re wide-eyed freshman thrown into a master’s class. Allen Lazard is a calloused vet who caught eight touchdowns on 40 receptions last season and most certainly has not forgotten where he started, as an undrafted practice squad player who couldn’t even crack the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 53-man roster. He’ll perform. He’ll also cream a DB downfield to turn an eight-yard run into 60-yard touchdown. But he isn’t a twitchy burner who’ll tear up 1-on-1 coverage.
Amari Rodgers remains a mystery. Randall Cobb is all but finished.
There is a lane for Watkins to be the player who busts open the passing game.
Mainly because we’ve seen it — recently. There’s still pop to the 29-year-old’s game.
Of course, Watkins left a Hall-of-Famer in the dust that 2019 Super Bowl season, fresh off torching Tennessee in the AFC title game. In 2020, he cleanly hurdled a Dolphins safety. In 2021, within a Ravens offense that’s not exactly WR-friendly, he still pulled off the occasional stunt that echoed back to those Clemson days. A Willie Mays-style, over-the-shoulder catch vs. the Raiders on a deep crosser for 49 yards. An out cut that froze star rookie Patrick Surtain II. A juke that left the richest safety in the NFL, Minkah Fitzpatrick, grasping for air. A willingness to cruise right into the dangerous corners of the field. For a player who has damaged every body part, Watkins isn’t afraid to get drilled.
He’s crafty. He’s tough. He can still run. If he’s healthy — granted, a Lake Michigan-sized if — Watkins is capable of winning vs. any caliber of DB in the league. He’ll be exactly where Rodgers needs him, and that means something for a team resetting at the position.
All at the bargain price of $1.85 million with a paltry $350,000 guaranteed.
And yet, the nuts and bolts do not come close to expressing where Watkins will boost the Packers most.
You want his perspective in a locker room. You want to add a player who crashed so, so, so unfathomably low and somehow climbed his way out. Watkins’ personal hell on earth wasn’t only due to injuries in Buffalo, no, one day the Bills told him there was a warrant out for his brother’s arrest in Florida. Jari McMiller was turning his life around. He even stayed with Watkins up north and got a 9-to-5 job. Now, the FBI was involved. Twenty-two alleged “Lake Boyz” gang members were arrested in relation to a RICO case that Watkins estimated included half his family.
While dealing with all of his own issues, he paid the $1 million bond and told McMiller he’d help any way possible.
Sammy Watkins said plenty in our conversation back in 2020. This weighed heaviest:
"I don't think the world knows what athletes go through off the field," Watkins said. "We have family. We have lives. You have good and bad in your family. I'm like f--king Jesus in my family. I was putting family before football. I wasn't focused on football. I was like: 'F--k football. I have to figure out how I'm going to put my family in a position to be successful or not to get killed or not to get in a situation where they can go to jail.'
"I was fighting a war outside of football."
Talk of demons and aliens justifiably floored us all but everything that sent Watkins zigging ‘n zagging through those rabbit holes should not be forgotten. He entered the sort of dark place that devours NFL players for good. Many do not escape. They slip into depression, don’t play another down or worse. Much worse.
One ex-Packer, running back Alex Green, shared his chilling demise. He’s not alone. He knows he’s lucky.
Practically nobody in Buffalo had a clue what Watkins was going through. Not management, not teammates, not coaches. His best friend on the team, Caleb Holley, was cut.
But he found a route out — his way — and that’s what matters.
Watkins, in Year 9, is a survivor.
For a while this offseason, he didn’t think he’d even get a call. Watkins admitted during minicamp this spring he was “sitting on the couch” and “getting fat.” He ballooned to 220 pounds. The Packers reached out and he says it immediately changed his whole outlook. Yeah, this Packers squad has endured brutal playoff losses the last decade from the 2014 NFC title game in Seattle to the 2021 NFC title game at Lambeau Field and alllll of the meltdowns in-between. But this pain doesn’t come remotely close to what Watkins experienced over the same time frame. The pressures of pro football destroy top 5 picks like him. Let alone a top 5 pick viewed as such a savior to everyone back in Fort Myers.
Watkins has zero business still playing in the NFL, yet here he is. He just kept pressing on as a son, a husband, a father, a teammate. His body and mind both have been broken, repaired, strengthened. From the moment training camp opens in Green Bay, his voice will be unbelievably valuable. His perspective will only enhance a contender. Think back to the last two Packers teams that won Super Bowls. They were piloted by all-time greats at quarterback, but both teams also had locker rooms built to withstand adversity.
Ron Wolf understood this as much as any GM. It’s an imperfect comparison, but Wolf’s decision to roll the dice on Andre Rison in late November of that ‘96 season paid off. Despite Rison’s off-field issues and propensity to burn more bridges than opposing secondaries — and despite not signing him two years prior — Wolf took a deep breath and viewed this wide receiver as a missing piece.
He was right. Rison’s spunk was an asset, and his touchdown catch inside the Superdome in Super Bowl XXXI will loop for an eternity.
The soul of a team matters.
So much goes into building a championship roster beyond the numbers. It takes interpersonal relationships. True bonds. One quarterback or one head coach alone cannot compel everyone to blast through the nearest wall because there’s no ecosystem in sports like an NFL locker room. Matt LaFleur’s 41-13 record as coach indicates that he has built a damn good one.
Now, Watkins could be the tweak the roster needs. An alien of a tipping point who relates to anyone. He will not stop smiling, either. He is determined to harness and project that positive energy. It’d be no shock if Watkins hit it off with a quarterback whose own beliefs tend to pinball all directions. Teammates will quickly learn to love deep conversations with Watkins the way they did in KC. He wasn’t dismissed as a nut by Mecole Hardman, by Travis Kelce, by Patrick Mahomes. All were engaged.
That’s the effect Watkins has in conversation. He lures you in. He makes you believe, like the moment he started explaining all of his out-of-body experiences in our chat. There are times on the field that Watkins feels like he’s “controlling from the outside.” And, no lie, this dusted off memories of truly feeling outside of my own body. One high school basketball game, I had my head sliced open, left the gym to get it stitched up, returned, played, and how Watkins explained this exact feeling? Operating outside of your body? That’s what the second half of this game felt like back at good ‘ol Ellicottville Central.
Packers players are in for a wild ride.
It should be noted that Watkins is not researching “multidimensional consciousness” quite as much as he used to. There’s no need. But if the Packers do manage to claw their way back to a conference title game, it’d probably behoove Watkins to surf through an astral realm once more.
Green Bay will gladly take seven receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown, too.
For more on Sammy Watkins, check out the latest episode of the Go Long Podcast. Co-host Jim Monos was the director of personnel for the team that traded up to draft Watkins in 2014. Monos looks back at that decision and projects how Watkins could fit in with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this season.
You can download or watch “Go Long with Dunne and Monos” anywhere you consume pods with a few links below:
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