The Green Bay Packers made a serious investment — and also a statement — by dealing two late-second-round picks to select wide receiver Christian Watson 34th-overall in this year’s draft. Still, fans shouldn’t get overzealous with their expectations for him this year.
“He’s a big, fast, physical receiver. We think his best football is ahead of him,” Gutekunst said after the draft. “We brought him in for one of our 30 visits, got a chance to spend a lot of time with him. Really smart kid who we feel will fit our culture. He’s got really good tape, his athletic traits are off the charts, and the more we got to know him as a person, we felt really good about him.”
The Packers drafted Watson mainly because of his upside. His physical profile and ceiling convinced them to potentially overspend in an intradivision trade with the Minnesota Vikings to secure their guy. However, Watson is a long-term project. Earlier this offseason, I wrote that you shouldn’t be surprised if Romeo Doubs has more of an immediate impact. And while Green Bay can explore some areas of Watson’s game right away, it’s imperative to be patient.
Those points have gotten even more pronounced because Watson suffered a minor knee injury during OTAs and underwent a surgical procedure. That forced him to start training camp on the PUP list, and he hasn’t practiced with the rest of the team in camp so far. The Packers haven’t released any timetable for recovery, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Watson will miss more time, maybe even one or more preseason games.
“Not having Christian out there has been probably tough for him, but I expect him back in a few weeks,” Rodgers told reporters last week.
The Packers don’t allow significant parts of practices to be discussed by reporters. But from what has been possible to see, Watson is still very limited in his movements. It’s hard to believe he’ll fully practice in the next week or two.
The Packers will have three preseason games in August: at San Francisco 49ers (Aug. 12), vs. New Orleans Saints (Aug. 19), and at Kansas City Chiefs (Aug. 25).
All of the reasons Christian Watson may take more time to hit his stride — his rawness and history of facing lesser competition in the FCS — will be more pronounced without perfect preparation. These practices and preseason games could have been an essential step for Watson’s development and acclimation to the NFL.
The Packers have experienced similar problems, especially with the 2020 draft class. That year, the NFL reduced training camp, and there were no preseason games because of COVID. As a result, Green Bay had almost no immediate impact from their rookies. Even today, Jordan Love and Josiah Deguara suffer a little bit because they lost an important initial step. Even a more pro-ready prospect like A.J. Dillon only started to have a real impact in his second season.
The Packers should use more of their veteran receivers to begin the year — a typical pattern with Aaron Rodgers under center. Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, and Randall Cobb may be the starters in the first weeks. Even among rookies, Doubs certainly is ahead of Watson. First, because he is a more polished prospect, but also the difference might get bigger early on considering that Doubs has been one of the highlights of Packers training camp. The ability to develop trust and connection with Rodgers is a factor, and it’s harder to do that during the season.
Watson will have to learn the intricacies of the offense fast when he’s back, and Matt LaFleur might need to develop a different plan to ease him into the system. Maybe Watson is a designated deep threat or manufactured horizontal touches – parts of his game that were present at North Dakota State. That may allow him to develop other areas as the season goes on.
Christian Watson is a special prospect and might be good immediately if the Packers’ offensive coaching staff can maximize his skill set, particularly as a deep threat. But it’s essential to remember that Watson is a long-term investment, and the Packers (and especially their fans) can’t overreact if things don’t go perfectly from the jump.