2022 will look much different for the Green Bay Packers wide receiver group in 2022. Star wide receiver Davante Adams was shipped to the Las Vegas Raiders this off-season. Adams departure presents something that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers has arguably never had to deal with in his career. That being not having an upper echelon pass catcher at his disposal. Now, it will be up to Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur to set a new path for the Green Bay Packers offense. For the Packers to be successful, one of their young pass catchers will need to step up and step up immediately. But for rookie Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson, the best approach for the Packers might be patience.
Patience is Key When it Comes to Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Christian Watson
Rookie Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson shot up NFL Draft boards this spring after an impressive NFL Combine. The 6’4″ 208-pound receiver impressed scouts with a 4.36 forty-yard dash, and 38.5-inch vertical jump and also registered a 136 broad jump in Indianapolis this spring. His combination of size and speed drew the attention of Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. So much so, that Gutekunst sent two second-round draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings for the 34th overall pick. That is the position he selected Watson with.
Once the draft concluded, several Packers podcasters started to discuss the possibility of Watson stepping right in for Adams and taking his spot as the number one Green Bay Packers wide receiver. Even before taking one professional snap, Watson was already facing insurmountable expectations. Expectations that need to be reeled in after taking a deeper look at the bigger picture. On paper, Christian Watson is everything you want in an NFL wide receiver. He has the speed, the explosiveness, and the size NFL teams covet at wide receiver. Everything but big-time production at a high level.
Watson comes to Green Bay via North Dakota State. He landed at North Dakota State after being a late bloomer in high school, receiving little to no attention from Power 5 football schools. Watson went on to start 31 games over five seasons with the Bison. Over that course of time, he totaled 105 receptions for 2,142 yards with 14 touchdown catches. His best season as a pass catcher was in 2021. He hauled in 43 catches for 801 yards with seven touchdown receptions. All solid numbers, but at a lower level, those numbers don’t match the attributes he possesses.
By no means is this a knock on Christian Watson or the North Dakota State football program. The reality is that Watson is still a major work in progress. Injuries to key draft selections are never a good thing. But for the Packers and Christian Watson, it might turn out to be a silver lining.
The Gary Approach For Watson
Many were surprised to find out that when training camp kicked off that Christian Watson was one of the players placed on the PUP list. After going through OTAs with the Packers, many expected him to be ready for training camp. However, after dealing with knee soreness after OTAs, Watson, his representatives, and the Packers decided that he should have knee surgery to deal with the soreness.
As a rookie, especially one that the Packers are hoping can contribute immediately, you never want to miss time. The time allows rookies to learn the playbook and in the case of Green Bay Packers wide receivers, time to work with Aaron Rodgers. But for Watson, the injury actually might turn out to be a good thing. It will allow those high expectations to die down and also give him time mentally to prepare.
Packers pass rusher Rashan Gary didn’t have to deal with an injury when he came into the league in 2019. But similar to Watson, he did have to deal with high expectations as a high-round draft selection. With playing behind Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, the Packers brought Gary along slowly. Many consider Gary’s rookie season to be a semi “redshirt” year. He saw limited time, mostly in passing situations, and even registered two sacks. In 2020, he saw his time increase, and by 2021, after Za’Darius Smith was lost to an injury, he was inserted as a starter.
Gutekunst, LaFleur, and wide receivers coach Jason Vrable might take a similar approach with Watson. With him missing time in training camp, they can bring him along slowly. Allow him time to adjust to the NFL game. Once he recovers, they can allow him to return kicks (something he did at a high level at North Dakota State) and see spot duty in some passing packages. The plan worked for Gary and it could work for Watson as well.
The Doubs Factor
It is pretty well known that fellow rookie Romeo Doubs is having a terrific training camp. Doubs has not only drawn the attention of LaFleur and Vrable, but he has drawn the attention of his quarterback.
As a competitor, Doubs outstanding play could be making Watson say “what if”. But really, Doubs training camp play could help Watson in the long run. With Doubs being the focal point of the media, once Watson returns, that attention will stay on Doubs and allow Watson to get up to speed.
Other veteran members of the Green Bay Packers wide receiver group will also take some pressure off of Watson. The Packers have Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Sammy Watkins on their roster, and they are projected to see the bulk of the playing time to start the season.
The days of bringing along rookies slowly in the NFL seem to have passed. But even with that, the Packers have seemed to find a way to bring along some of their younger players slowly. Many Packers fans want Watson to have a Randy Moss-type impact in his rookie season. However, the Hall of Famer Moss was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Watson could turn out to be that type of player, but currently, he isn’t. The Packers will have to be patient with Watson and so will Packers fans.