The Green Bay Packers got disappointing news late last week when they placed veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the injured reserve due to a hamstring injury. That means that Watkins will miss a minimum of four games and possibly more. But how will the injury affect the Packers offense going forward? Here is the potential fallout from the Watkins injury and how the Packers are likely to deal with the loss of one of their top veteran receivers.
The most obvious result of this injury is to Watkins himself. The 29-year-old former Clemson star signed with the Packers as a free agent during the offseason. It’s a one-year, prove-it deal which means that the injury may hurt Watkins’ ability to sign another contract whether with the Packers or another NFL team. Watkins was a first-round pick of the Bills back in 2014 but that first year is the only season he played in every game in any year of his career. His reputation as a player who is often injured just got worse.
Through two games, Watkins was tied for the team lead with six catches and led the Packers with 111 receiving yards. So, in addition to the need for Watkins to return quickly to secure his own NFL career, the Packers need to replace his production and the deep speed he provides to stretch defenses. That was evident in Week 2 when he caught a 55-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers will now need to rely on their younger wideouts to pick up the slack. Watkins’ role was primarily as a perimeter receiver. The most likely candidates to replace him in that role are Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Both are rookies who have outstanding physical tools but lack experience and have yet to earn the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Doubs was the Packers top receiver in preseason and turned heads in training camp, making what players and coaches described as “wow plays” nearly every day of camp. The fourth-round pick out of Nevada caught six passes in the first two games of the year on eight targets. He played 47 percent of the Packers offensive snaps in the first two games and that number is likely to go up with Watkins now unavailable.
Watson has more physical gifts than Doubs but he was not as far along in his development as Doubs was when the season started. The Packers traded up to select Watson with the first pick in the second round because of his outstanding combination of size and speed. Watson played in a run-oriented offense at North Dakota State and the offense did not feature a very complex route tree. In addition, injuries kept Watson off the field for most of training camp and all three preseason games. That limited the time he had to develop chemistry with Rodgers and his teammates and to integrate himself into the new offense.
On the Packers first offensive play of the 2022 season, Watson dropped a surefire touchdown when he was open for a deep pass that went right through his hands. Through two games, he has five catches on seven targets for 43 yards.
From a purely physical standpoint, Watson is the player with the tools and skill set that most closely match Watkins. However, if he is not ready to assume that responsibility because of his inexperience, he and Doubs may split those duties or Doubs may get more reps than Watson. The injury to Watkins gives both rookie receivers a chance to take on a bigger role in the offense sooner if they are equal to the challenge.
The injury to Watkins may also change Allen Lazard’s role somewhat. The Packers projected number one receiver was expected to line up in different spots on the field including the slot to create favorable matchups against opposing defensive backs. The loss of Watkins may mean fewer reps in the slot of Lazard depending on how the other wideouts handle their increased workload.
Seventh round pick Samori Toure may also benefit from Watkins’ absence. Toure has yet to be active for a regular-season game. With the injury to Watkins, the rookie may get a chance to see his first game action at some point during Watkins’ absence.
Juwann Winfree may also get a chance to be elevated off the practice squad again for the second game this season. The Packers can elevate him for three games without having to officially add him to the 53-man roster. They also re-signed veteran Travis Fulgham to the practice squad and he may also be elevated if needed.
Finally, Amari Rodgers may get some more chances. Although the second-year man out of Clemson has struggled to get offensive reps and is better suited for slot duty, he may get more chances to see the field with Watkins out of the lineup. Through two games, Rodgers has been on the field for just one offensive snap. He now has a chance to increase that number especially if Lazard lines up on the perimeter more often.
Either way, the Packers will have to find a way to continue to get production from their wide receivers without Watkins in the lineup. A receiver by committee approach is most likely with head coach Matt LaFleur seeking to exploit the most favorable matchups each week depending on the strengths of the opponent. Keeping the receivers productive will be a key to the success of the Green Bay offense in the coming weeks.
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