Sammy Watkins Vs Taylor Gabriel: Sizing Up the Rookie WRs


With the Cleveland Browns facing off with the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, fans are likely to revisit the Sammy Watkins trade from this past NFL Draft. The Browns traded the #4 pick, which became Sammy Watkins, for the Bills #9 pick (they then moved up to #8) and 2015 1st and 4th round picks. At the time, and still most analyst believed that the Browns made a great move to get that much to move down 5 spots.

Since then, especially following Browns losses, fans have went back to this move to complain about the lack of dynamic offensive weapons. Watkins has had a good season, with some spectacular plays and games, which has buoyed the argument of these fans.

The Browns ignored the receiver position in the draft, a draft that has produced a ton of talent in their rookie season, but signed a number of undrafted free agents at the position. One of those receivers has turned in a stellar season and given Browns fans something to hope for: Taylor Gabriel.

Gabriel, out of Abilene Christian, does not have the size or pedigree of Watkins but has played much larger than his build. He had over 3,000 yards receiving and 27 touchdowns in his college career and started Training Camp fighting for a roster spot.

Needless to say Gabriel has secured his roster spot, likely for the long term. Based on his size, he could be mistaken as only a slot receiver, but Gabriel has the size, speed and ball skills to play on the outside as well. Gabriel’s skills and production have not gone unnoticed. Two weeks ago Pro Football Focus put out there rookie wide receivers rankings with this tweet:

Gabriel is graded as the second best rookie receiver three spots above Watkins, and just below Mike Evans, drafted before the Browns selected #8. PFF does their rankings based on film study, deep understanding of the game and their evaluation tools and people. Some may not agree with these rankings or PFF in general but have to respect what Gabriel has accomplished.

The statistical comparison of Gabriel and Watkins this season:

PlayersGamesReceptionsTargetsYardsYPCLongTDsFirst Downs
Sammy Watkins11488968414.384536
Taylor Gabriel1130575401870122

The difference between Gabriel and Watkins is 18 catches, 144 yards, 4 touchdowns and 14 first downs. The difference between what each of them cost their teams is very difference. While Watkins cost the Bills two 1st round picks and a 4th rounder, the Browns signed Gabriel to a $420,000 contract for this season.

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Watkins has garnered those 18 more catches, 144 yards, 4 TDs and 14 first downs on 32 more targets based on his priority in the Bills offense. Given as many opportunities, it is possible that Gabriel could have similar numbers.

Each player has their strengths and weaknesses. They are different type of receivers but both are talented none-the-less. Watkins has 5 inches and 50 more pounds than Gabriel, while the smaller receiver is a highly accomplished route runner.

As Browns fans look back at the 2014 NFL Draft the Sammy Watkins trade will always be brought up. When it is fans need to add Taylor Gabriel to the equation. In exchange for Sammy Watkins the Browns have Justin Gilbert, Taylor Gabriel and two draft picks in 2015 (1st and 4th rounders). When looked at it through that prism, as well as the PFF and statistical comparisons,  it changes how fans should look at Watkins this weekend.

Does Taylor Gabriel, and his production, change your opinion of the Sammy Watkins trade?