COSTA MESA, Calif. – Sammy Watkins may have never played football if it wasn’t for his older brothers. He described himself as a “big fat kid” around the age of 6 or 7. Even out of shape, watching his older brother Jaylen Watkins play in Pop Warner piqued Sammy’s interest.
“I was sorry at first,” Sammy told Yahoo Sports. “Everybody [was] better than me. And then, just that summer, I was like, ‘I'm going to go outside and play football in the sandlot with my brothers.’ ”
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Sammy and Jaylen are half brothers, growing up in different homes. The brothers played high school football a 25-minute drive apart and now live in different parts of Florida. Still, they’ve been close from a young age, often meeting up at a basketball court near their grandparents’ house and have stayed connected throughout their careers. They were drafted the same year, 2014, (Sammy went fourth overall, Jaylen 101st) and shared a team during Jaylen’s brief stint on the Buffalo Bills in 2015.
This season, Jaylen, a safety for the Los Angeles Chargers and Sammy, a wide receiver with the Kansas City Chiefs, will square off twice as AFC West division rivals. The matchup was set to occur last season, but Jaylen tore his ACL about three weeks before the Chargers hosted the Chiefs in the 2018 season opener.
“I think he's going to have an opportunity to actually play on the field and get some snaps against me,” Sammy said. “So hopefully I can, you know, crack him or something.”
The first time the Watkins played each other in an organized football game, Jaylen harassed his younger brother in a Pop Warner game. Jaylen, one year older than Sammy, played with the younger kids due to his smaller size. Both boys played quarterback, setting up a Watkins quarterback duel. While Sammy spent all his time under center, Jaylen also played nose tackle. Not only did Sammy’s team lose, but Jaylen remembers “giving the center hell,” and sacking Sammy.
“That was fun,” Jaylen told Yahoo Sports with a smile.
As their careers took off and Jaylen played safety at the University of Florida and Sammy caught passes at Clemson, the brothers trained together back home in Florida during the offseasons. Sammy is a different kind of player than most receivers due to his combination of size (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) and speed (he ran a 4.43 at the NFL scouting combine), Jaylen said. Defensive backs can’t beat up Sammy to slow him down at the line like a smaller receiver but also don’t want to let him run free in fear of not catching him.
Covering and working closely with a top-level receiver has impacted Jaylen’s game, particularly during their shared time in Buffalo in 2015. Jaylen signed with the Bills hoping the opportunity to work with his brother would catapult his play following an early season release from the Eagles. At the time, Jaylen said he needed to work on patience at the line and Sammy needed to learn how to counter it.
While on the practice squad in Buffalo, Jaylen was assigned to play scout defense on his younger brother and often wore the opposing jersey of whichever defensive back would be covering Sammy that weekend. Jaylen learned to cover his brother’s complex attributes. He could run with Sammy, he just needed to trust his speed.
After 11 weeks in Buffalo, the Eagles re-signed Jaylen.
“I came back to Philly and was thrown in the fire,” Jaylen said. “But I was like, ‘I'm ready; I've been covering there with Sammy every day.’ ”
In Week 14 of that season, the Eagles hosted the Bills. The Watkins’ father, Sammy Watkins III, attended the game in Philadelphia with a Bills jersey covered by an Eagles jacket.
Jaylen provided a scout on his brother for the secondary unit leading up to the game but it didn’t matter. Sammy still scored a 47-yard touchdown. Jaylen didn’t play on defense but passed Sammy several times on his jog off from special teams.They acknowledged each other, exchanged taps on the shoulder and kept moving.
“Obviously when you're on the field it just kind of goes out the door,” Jaylen said. “After the play you realize, 'Oh, that's my brother.' But during the play you know there's 10 other people on the field. It's chaos. You kind of like block it out.”
Last year’s hype about the matchups built to the point where the brothers’ father already had plans to be in Los Angeles for Week 1 only for Jaylen’s knee injury to derail the sibling showdown.
The first of the two games this year won’t come until Week 11 and Jaylen doesn’t want to predict too far into the future. When discussing the possibility of playing Sammy this year, Jaylen glanced down at his leg.
“You know, don't want to,” Jaylen said before pointing down at his leg. “We're anxious though, both of us.”
Senior NFL reporter Terez Paylor contributed to this report
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