The 2022 NFL season will be a pivotal one for Packers wide receiver Sammy Watkins. If he has a productive year, he can earn a multi-year contract and continue his NFL career for several more seasons. If he struggles again, this could be the end of the line for Watkins or if he’s lucky, he’ll get an invitation to training camp next season for the veteran minimum.
Nobody realizes this more than Watkins himself. “I told the coaches, my back is against the wall,” Watkins admitted. “My career hasn’t been what I projected it to be.”
Watkins’ career got off to a strong start. The Buffalo Bills selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He caught 65 passes in his rookie year for 982 yards and six touchdowns. A year later, he set a career high with 1,047 yards receiving and nine touchdown catches despite playing in only 13 games that year.
Since then, injuries have slowed him and he has never approached the productivity he showed early in his career. His best season since then came in 2017 when he was with the Los Angeles Rams. In 15 games that season, he had eight touchdowns on 39 total catches for 593 yards.
Matt LaFleur was an assistant coach on that Rams team so he is familiar with Watkins work ethic, skill set and how he would fit into the Packers offense.
He also had this to say about Watkins after seeing him at OTAs this past week. “I don’t think his game has fallen off at all since we were together in 2017,” LaFleur said. “A little bit has been maybe a little bit a lack of opportunity, but I think he’s a guy that’s out there working hard and he’s going to be a big part of our offense.”
Watkins himself realizes the opportunity he has this season. It took roughly a month after free agency started for his phone to ring at all. At times, he questioned whether he would get another opportunity to play in the NFL. Finally, the Packers called him.
“I’m on the couch getting fat, 300, I mean 220 pounds, like, ‘Man, am I ever going to get that call?’” Watkins said. He did and ended up meeting with coach LaFleur. “I came up, met with Coach Matt, we kind of as you call it broke bread, hung out, talked. This opportunity is really big for me, my family, and I just really can’t wait to get started.”
The opportunity is clearly there in Green Bay. Davante Adams, who has been the Packers leading wide receiver for the last five seasons, has been traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. Marquez Valdes-Scantling departed via free agency and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. That means two of the Packers top three receivers from 2021 will not be back this season.
When you add the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled to trust and rely on younger receivers, that leaves a chance for a player like Watkins to take on a substantial role this season with the Packers.
Rodgers said he was excited about the addition of Watkins to the roster. “I think Sammy has the opportunity to continue and travel down a new path in his career that we can help him here as he continues to improve and gets opportunities. The most important thing for receivers and pass-catchers and ball carriers is opportunities, and there’s definitely going to be opportunities for him to make plays for us in this offense. I love the disposition, I really enjoy the person, and I think he has everything right in front of him to have as productive a year as he wants to.”
Watkins is aware of what he can accomplish this season. “It’s a great opportunity for me to come here, play hard, catch a ton of balls, compete at the highest level and win games and fight to stay healthy,” Watkins explained. “To get this opportunity is a blessing…hopefully, I can have a healthy season and play hard and win a ton of games. I just think the staff, the organization is run well and the guys I’m surrounded around – Aaron (Rodgers), Aaron Jones, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, a lot of moving parts,” Watkins said.
Watkins is 29 now, which is no longer young for an NFL wide receiver, especially one who relies on his speed. He knows what is at stake and that this may be the last, best chance he has to revive his career.
“I’ve just got come in and take care of my body, play hard, take coaching and also be a leader in the room and just do whatever in my power to stay on the field,” Watkins said. “Because when I’m on the field, I can ball, I can catch balls, I can score and I’m a dominant player. But the key is staying on the field.”
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