Sammy Watkins was supposed to be a game-changing star when the Buffalo Bills drafted him fourth overall in 2014, the kind of speedy wide receiver that could make plays all over the field.
It never worked out that way.
Watkins had a 1,000-yard season and was reasonably productive, but he never quite hit the stardom that was expected of him. And along the way, he gained a reputation for being demanding, difficult and at times downright sulky as the number of passes that went his way reached a nadir.
"I was young and kind of ego-tripping," Watkins said, quite matter-of-factly, after helping the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 30-23 on Sunday to complete a season sweep.
The 25-year-old Watkins played a big part in the win, too. He caught eight passes for 107 yards and two scores, and drew some of the attention from the rest of the Chiefs' stars, who all seemed to produce at crucial times as Kansas City continued its dominance of the AFC West.
So what changed between Watkins in Buffalo and Watkins in Kansas City? What has enabled a guy with blazing speed, strong hands and physical size to finally become a breakout star?
Well, mostly maturity.
"I kind of went to the Rams last year and I was in the same situation with a lot of other weapons. I learned a lot," Watkins said. "It's not about me or any one guy on this team."
The Chiefs' decision to sign Watkins in free agency raised some eyebrows, not only because they had pressing needs elsewhere but because their offense was already quite potent. They had a star-in-the-making in Tyreek Hill, the reigning NFL rushing champion in Kareem Hunt and one of the best tight ends in the game in Travis Kelce, so adding Watkins to the mix seemed to be superfluous.
But they wound up signing him to a $48 million, three-year deal anyway, then listened as all the pundits criticized the move throughout the summer and right into training camp.
Nobody is criticizing it much these days.
"His approach has been unbelievable," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He just comes out, works hard. He's not concerned with how many catches he has or any of that. For a big-time receiver, that's unique. He knows there's only one ball and we have a bunch of pretty good players, and when you have an opportunity, be a part of that. He's done that. He's done a nice job of that."
Watkins was relatively quiet in an opening win over the Chargers, but he had six catches for 100 yards the following week at Pittsburgh. He had his first TD catch in a win over the 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium, then had his best game to date against the Broncos on Sunday.
One was a crafty buttonhook route, where Watkins found a soft spot in the middle of the Denver defense and ran untouched 10 yards for the score. The other was a 13-yard touchdown reception.
The fact that both came in the red zone is hardly a surprise: That's where Watkins is dangerous.
"It feels great," he said, "not just to score two times but to get the win. To do it at a high level and just go out there and play my style of game, running around, having fun, throwing some good blocks and have everybody catch a lot of balls."
Sounds like a team-first player, rather than the me-first guy Watkins used to be.
"It's always good to see Sammy go off," Kelce said. "He brings such a confidence in everything he does. You're happy for the guy because of the type of person he is and how hard he works during the week. It's awesome to see him have a day like he had."
Notes: Reid said Monday he hadn't heard the comments made by the Broncos claiming that the Chiefs stretch the rules offensively by getting their offensive linemen too far downfield on their run-pass option plays. "I always ask officials beforehand if there is anything I need to tell my guys and that's never been an issue," Reid said. ... Reid did not have any injury updates Monday, though he did say LB Frank Zombo (hamstring) was probably the most serious of them. LB Anthony Hitchens (ribs) and WR Tyreek Hill (groin) also left Sunday's game against the Broncos.