Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst praised the team’s three rookie receivers from a year ago but admitted the Pack will still be looking for veteran help at the position this offseason regardless of whether Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love is the team’s starting quarterback.
The team’s wide receiver room was in flux last offseason with Davante Adams being traded to the Las Vegas Raiders and veteran Marquez Valdes-Scantling signing with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. That left the team without two of their top three wideouts from 2021.
Gutekunst took steps to retool the receiver room last year. First, he selected three receivers in the draft. The Packers traded up to take Christian Watson in the second round, they added Romeo Doubs in the fourth round and then Samori Toure in the seventh round.
The Packers also signed a veteran receiver in free agency in Sammy Watkins. Watkins had played under head coach Matt LaFleur earlier in his career and the Packers signed him to a one-year, prove-it deal hoping he could stay healthy and revive his career with the Packers and Rodgers as his quarterback.
The Packers young receivers were forced into action sooner than the team had hoped when injuries hit the receiving corps early in the season. Watkins was injured in Week 2 and missed several games. Allen Lazard struggled with nagging injuries early in the season and veteran Randall Cobb also spent time on the injured reserve. That meant Watson, Doubs and Toure saw the field more frequently than planned.
The three rookies all showed promise at various times during their initial NFL campaigns. Watson dealt with injuries in training camp and the preseason that hampered him early in the season. He famously dropped a sure touchdown pass on the Packers first offensive play from scrimmage in Week 1.
But Watson had a coming out party in the Packers Week 10 win over Dallas, catching four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns. His size and speed make him a matchup challenge for even the best defensive backs. He finished the season with 41 catches for 611 yards and seven receiving touchdowns while scoring twice on running plays.
“[I’m] really proud of Christian because a lot of times with all the things that he went through, that rookie season would’ve really just kind of gone away,” Gutekunst explained. “For him to stay in the fight and then be able to produce like he did down the stretch, really a credit to the kid. He’s really bright, he’s really determined. The spotlight is obviously not too big for him.”
Doubs got off to a faster start in training camp and the preseason and shined early in the season. He doesn’t have the downfield speed of Watson but he has good hands and runs precise routes that help keep drives alive. The former Nevada star deal with injuries that cost him four games midseason but still caught 42 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games.
Toure surprised a lot of people by making the team after having a strong finish to training camp and the preseason. He caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in 11 games once the season got started. He is hoping to build on his rookie campaign in 2023.
“I think they came to work every day, they were really good teammates and really good listeners, not only to the coaches but to the Randall Cobbs and the Allen Lazards,” Gutekunst said. “I just thought they fit into our team really well.”
This year, more changes are likely coming to the wide receiver room. Cobb’s future is unclear. He had ankle surgery after the season ended and has yet to decide if he wants to retire or return in 2023. His changes of spending another season in Green and Gold increase dramatically if Rodgers returns to the Packers.
Lazard is an unrestricted free agent and while the Packers said they would welcome him back, he will likely get a better offer from another team. Lazard said after the season finale he likely played his final game with the Packers.
So, while Gutekunst is optimistic the three young receivers can take another step forward in year two of their NFL careers, he also believes that the trio and the team would benefit by adding a veteran wideout.
“All those guys are going into their second year. I’d love to have a veteran presence,” Gutekunst said. “Just another guy in the room that those guys can bounce things off of and bring to the table. Whether that will happen or not, we’ll see, but as excited as I am about those young guys, having a guy with the kind of experience that has seen things, none of those guys got to play in a playoff game, right? It’d be nice to have a guy that can continue to help move those guys along as well as a veteran presence out there. I think that’s important.”
Of course, the Packers have to hope that any veteran they add stays healthier and is more productive than Watkins was a year ago. But keep an eye on the Packers search to add a veteran wideout once the new league year begins.
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