This is the first article in a continuing series on the young players at each position on the Green Bay Packers roster that the team will be counting on to take a step forward and make bigger contributions in 2023 and beyond. If these players make progress, the team can get back to playoff contention. If these players fail to improve, the Packers are likely to continue to struggle.
At the wide receiver position, the two players who hold the key to the future are Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Both players are entering their second season after showing flashes of ability as rookies.
Watson was the center of attention late in the 2022 campaign after he had his breakthrough game against the Cowboys in Week 10. He got his rookie campaign off to a slow start due to injuries and the learning curve of adjusting from a small school like North Dakota State to the NFL.
The second-round pick missed most of training camp all the preseason due to knee injury suffered at OTAs. That prevented him from having many reps with Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the first team offense.
In Week 1 against Minnesota, Watson struggled. He caught two passes in the game for 34 yards and ran once for seven yards but he dropped a sure touchdown pass on the Packers first offensive play from scrimmage and that delayed the trust the coaching staff and Rodgers had in the rookie wideout.
An assortment of injuries limited Watson early in the season but from Week 10 onwards, the light came on and Watson started to have a real impact.
He finished his rookie campaign with 41 catches for 611 yards and seven touchdowns while running the ball seven times for 80 yards and two more scores. He also had three games of 100 or more receiving yards and three games with multiple touchdowns (if you include rushing touchdowns).
There is little doubt Watson has the physical tools to be a number one receiver in the NFL. He stands 6’5” and has elite speed. His combine time in the 40-yard dash was 4.36.
The Packers don’t have another potential number one receiver on their roster and that means the team will be relying on Watson to take a second-year jump to provide the team with that dangerous weapon that open up the offense.
Head coach Matt LaFleur was excited about Watson’s potential after the season ended. “He gave us a legitimate home run threat, and I think that was on full display,” LaFleur said after the season finale against Detroit. “We can be extremely creative in terms of how we can get him the ball, and I think you saw a little bit of that.”
If Watson can improve his hands and route running and fully earn the trust of his quarterback, he can help take his game to the next level.
While Watson is the prototypical WR1, fellow rookie Romeo Doubs is made in the mold of a WR2. He may not have the speed of Watson but he has sure hands, a great work ethic and runs precise routes that help sustain drives by keeping the chains moving.
Doubs was the surprise standout in minicamp, OTAs and training camp and made plays that made the coaching staff, players and fans all take notice nearly every day. He was also a fixture in the preseason.
When injuries hit the receiving corps early in the season and Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb were both on IR, Doubs was thrust into a larger than expected role. His most productive game came in the Packers Week 3 win over the Bucs when he caught eight passes on eight targets for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Because of his work ethic and attitude, Doubs was the first of the young Packers receivers to earn Rodgers’ trust.
“Romeo is growing. He’s making some plays,” Rodgers said back in October after the win over New England. “I hit him twice in that last drive, so obviously I have confidence in him. I went to him on the key third down with two minutes left in the game. I’m not going to lose confidence in him. Obviously, we’ll hold him accountable, but he’s a great kid.”
The former Nevada star finished his rookie year with 42 catches for 425 yards and three touchdowns while playing in 13 games and starting seven. He missed four games between Week 10 and the Packers bye week after suffering an ankle injury. That slowed his progress in the second half of the season.
The Packers wide receiver situation is up in the air heading into this offseason. Cobb and Allen Lazard are unrestricted free agents and both may not be back in Green Bay next season. That leaves Watson, Doubs and fellow rookie Samori Toure as the only experienced players on the roster. Gutekunst will most likely add a veteran and draft another receiver during the offseason but the Packers will clearly be counting on Watson and Doubs to play large roles in the offense in 2023.
If the two young receivers make progress and stay healthy in year two, they can be the foundation of the receiving corps for years to come and the offense can be more dangerous and consistent in 2023. If they don’t improve in their sophomore season, the Packers could face another year with a subpar receiving corps regardless of who starts at quarterback.
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