The Green Bay Packers 28-19 victory over the Chicago Bears keeps their playoffs hope alive, even if said hopes seem to be on life support. Sitting at 5-8 and heading into their late-season bye week, their playoffs hope seems dim at best. However, as of late, it appears Packers fans have something to cheer about. The Packers have some key young players contributing, which gives fans some hope for the future. Wide receiver Christian Watson and offensive tackle Zach Tom top the list of Packers who could be major contributors to the Packers future.
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Christian Watson, Zach Tom Show Green Bay Packers Future Is Bright
We have been pretty critical of Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and his past NFL Draft classes, but the results have justified the criticism. He has hit on one or two players over the years, but as a whole, his draft classes have been pretty underwhelming. But his 2022 draft class has the potential to be the best haul of talent he has put together.
Gutekunst made 11 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. For the Green Bay Packers offense, three of those selections are making contributions this season. Defensively, two of them have become key contributors, one being a starter throughout this season.
The Packers rookie class has been asked to contribute immediately. Aaron Rodgers is in the “back nine” of his career. Knowing that, along with being strapped for cash, the Packers have been forced to lean on their rookie class. It appears this process has allowed the Packers to discover that they might have some future stars on their hands.
Christian Watson has the Looks of Being a Star in the NFL
The 2022 season didn’t start out the way that Christian Watson was hoping it would. In fact, it didn’t start out the way the Green Bay Packers had hoped for either.
A knee injury forced Watson to miss key time during this year’s training camp. With Rodgers not participating in off-season workouts, training camp was his best time to develop a relationship with Watson. But with Watson out, Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers offense were forced to develop that relationship on the fly.
The Aaron Rodgers-Christian Watson relationship had a rocky start. Of course, there was the drop Watson had in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. In the following weeks, Watson continued to have some issues with catching the ball. He also had to deal with injuries (hamstring and concussion) that forced him to miss some time this season.
But then something happened, it appears a light went off for the Packers 2022 second-round pick. In the Packers last four games, Christian Watson has hauled in 15 receptions for 313 yards with an eye-popping seven touchdown receptions. He also chipped in one touchdown carrying the ball as well.
Christian Watson is an absolute freak.pic.twitter.com/9035hjGEhi
— Eli Berkovits (@BookOfEli_NFL) December 4, 2022
While fellow rookie wide receiver Romeo Doubs grabbed all the headlines in training camp, it’s Watson who is becoming the star wide receiver of the Green Bay Packers offense. It’s what Gutekunst envisioned when he traded up in the second round to select Watson.
Head coach Matt LaFleur has to be delighted with what he has seen in Christian Watson so far. For Packers fans, it brings hope to what he could do, now and in the future.
Injuries at Tackle Giving Tom an Opportunity
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2020, David Bakhtiari was one of the best left tackles in the NFL. In fact, it can be argued that he was the best. Unfortunately, that injury is still causing issues for Bakhtiari.
When Bakhtiari is available, he is still one of the better left tackles in the NFL. But that injury is still causing him issues. Two years later, the injury is still forcing him to miss time for the Packers. Because of that, it has some people speculating that Bakhtiari and his big contract might be a salary cap casualty after this season.
Many believed that Elgton Jenkins might be the Packers left tackle of the future. Similar to Bakhtiari, Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2021. He made a remarkable recovery and was the Packers starting right tackle at the start of this season. However, he too has had issues with his recovery. His play at tackle wasn’t up to the level the Packers are accustomed to from him, which forced the coaching staff to move him back to left guard. Since making the switch back, his play has been better.
Yosh Nijman saw time at left tackle in 2021 and did a solid job filling in for Bakhtiari. But when the Packers switched Jenkins back inside this season, Nijman replaced him at right tackle. He has had some bumps in the road, but it appears that Nijman might be the future at right tackle. With Jenkins at guard and Nijman at right tackle, the Packers have called on rookie Zach Tom to step in for Bakhtiari when he hasn’t been available.
Zach Tom Looking the Part
Last week against the Bears, Tom performed very well and more than held his own. Tom, similar to Jenkins before his injury, is a great athlete. He has a smoothness about him and has great feet, which is needed at left tackle.
At Wake Forest, Tom started his career at center. He wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill college center. He was one of the better centers in the ACC. But when Wake Forest didn’t have a starting caliber left tackle on their roster, Tom stepped up and made the move to left tackle. It is very rare, unless you are Elgton Jenkins, to see a center make the switch to left tackle. But Tom did and he became one of the best tackles in the ACC.
In training camp, Tom looked like he might be another Green Bay Packers offensive line gem. Tom didn’t get much playing time to start the season, but since he has been called on, he has shown he is more than capable at left tackle.
Tom still needs to add some weight to his lean frame. But if he can add that, and not lose any of his athletic ability, he might be the answer if the Packers cut ties with Bakhtiari this off-season.
Walker and Enagbare Contributing Already on Defense
When Gutekunst selected Quay Walker in the first round, it was expected he would contribute right away. That is exactly what he has done.
Walker has started 12 games for the Packers this season. While he has suffered the standard rookie bumps, he has done a solid job, even while adapting to the NFL game. At this point in the season, he has 59 solo tackles (four for a loss), half a sack, and two forced fumbles.
His speed, which was a major reason that he was selected in the first round, has been on display throughout the season. The Packers needed to get young and faster at inside linebacker and that is what Walker has produced.
While it was expected that Walker would be a keep contributor in his rookie season, the same can’t be said for Kingsley Enagbare. As a fifth-round pick, Enagbare wasn’t expected to see much time as an outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers defense. But when Rashan Gary suffered a season-ending knee injury, it forced Enagbare into action.
With Gary’s injury, Enagbare has become a key contributor as an outside linebacker. He has found himself playing a lot opposite of starting outside linebacker Preston Smith. So far, he has chalked up two sacks playing in the Packers outside linebacker rotation. Being a fifth-round pick, and now a contributor in his rookie season, it’s a feather in Gutekunst’s hat.