There was great excitement when the Green Bay Packers traded up in the second round to select wide receiver Christian Watson in April. Watson had the size, skill set and athleticism that scouts look for in a receiver. He was big, fast and showed the ability to make big plays throughout his college career at North Dakota State.
The biggest knock on Watson was that he may need some time to adjust to the NFL. He didn’t run complex routes in college and would be making a big jump from an NCAA Championship Subdivision School to the NFL. The players he’ll be facing this year while playing for the Packers will be bigger, faster and more experienced than the players defending him in the Missouri Valley Conference.
He also needed to work on his technique to reduce drops but these are things that can be improved by coaching and reps in practice.
Unfortunately, Watson was injured during OTAs and had to undergo a procedure to clean up his knee. He has been unable to participate in the early days of training camp as he recovers from the injury. Right now, he is missing valuable time on the field in practice and time to build his trust on the field with starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Plus, Rodgers usually takes a little more time than most quarterbacks to trust his young receivers in game situations.
In the long run, this probably won’t have a major impact on Watson’s NFL career. But in the short run, Watson will not be able to get out on the field and show the coaching staff what he can do, get used to playing with his teammates and see what it takes to play at the NFL level. There are a lot of things Watson can do without taking part in practice, but there are a lot of things he cannot.
But the good news is that Watson has maintained a positive attitude while he has been forced to stay off the practice field. “It’s definitely frustrating, but I’ve tried not to let that affect me too much,” Watson told reporters. “There are still things I can do better and still be a part of everything, taking mental reps and still being in the playbook. So, I try to look at the positives and stay away from the negatives.”
Rodgers didn’t seem all that concerned about Watson’s absence from camp thus far. “It’s not a big concern, he’s a really smart kid,” Rodgers said. “It’d be nice to get him off the PUP so he could do some of the walkthrough stuff but he’ll be fine. He’s super athletic. He went through the entire offseason program with us, the OTAs, minicamp. He’s been in my hip pocket, asking questions after periods and during individual time. I’m not worried about him.”
While Watson has been sidelined, fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs has been having an outstanding training camp. That will give Doubs a head start when it comes to becoming a big part of the offense early in the season. But Watson is keeping everything in perspective and is happy for Doubs’ accomplishments.
“That’s the kind of culture that I have been introduced to since the moment I set foot in this clubhouse, that we’re going to celebrate each other’s successes,” Watson said. “We’re only as strong as the weakest link. I’m going to be just as excited if I was scoring touchdowns, if Romeo was or Allen [Lazard] or Cobby [Randall Cobb] … It’s exciting to be able to see those guys out there do their thing and continue to grow and make plays.”
The Packers will likely be conservative with Watson’s return as they try to avoid a long-term injury that could cost him a significant part of the season.
“We’d love to have him out there right now, but he’s a young player that we have a lot of hope for and expect him to be a big part of what we’re doing moving forward, so we’re not going to rush it,” GM Brian Gutekunst told reporters.
For now, Watson is learning all he can, working on getting better physically and asking a lot of questions. He is also confident that he’ll be ready when he gets his chance to be on the field.
“At the end of the day, I believe everything happens for a reason,” Watson said. “I know my role will be my role and I’ll own it regardless of what that is when I get back.”
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