The regular season is still months away, but teams are returning to a modicum of activity as OTAs begin.
While optional, these activities give us an early idea of how potential position battles may shake out and how a team’s new rookies are fitting into the NFL lifestyle. For a young team like the Green Bay Packers, these events are crucial to allow Jordan Love to build a repertoire with his new weapons.
The Packers invested heavily in offensive skill players for Love. This team is filled with unproven potential, and OTAs will be our first glance.
But while eyes will be on the rookie wide receivers and tight end, don’t get totally swept up in new toy syndrome. One of the most exciting duos to watch these next few weeks will be Love and sophomore receiver Christian Watson. Expect a big leap from the 2022 second-round pick as we head into a new season.
Surprisingly, Watson and fellow 2022 draftees Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure are the longest-tenured Green Bay wideouts. Doubs has played the most snaps thus far. But Watson is the de facto WR1 entering the season, despite missing significant time in both the 2022 preseason and regular season.
The Watson pick was polarizing at the time. Despite being one of the most athletic wide receivers of our time, Watson’s small school background and “raw” traits had pundits questioning what he could be. These doubts became stronger as Watson dealt with multiple injuries in his rookie season and after dropping a sure-fire TD on the first offensive play of the season against the Minnesota Vikings.
But once he was healed and back into the lineup, Watson played significant snaps and made the most of them.
Watson broke out in Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys, catching four of his eight targets for 107 yards and three touchdowns and became a major focal point. Watson finished second on the team in receiving yards, with 611, and led the team with seven receiving TDs. He also added two more rushing TDs.
Watson was incredibly efficient in his half-season of heavy usage. ESPN’s Mina Kimes noted that despite a small sample size, Watson ranked 21st in overall WR score, 12th in yards per route ran, and fifth in YAC per route. Even when his TD rate died down, Watson was still a factor even when he wasn’t targeted. His elite speed forces defensive coordinators to prepare for anything, and he shows a gift for blocking.
That was despite of missing significant time and not having off-season opportunities to build a rhythm with Aaron Rodgers. It’s fair to believe that Watson would have been a prime OROY candidate had he played a full season.
Of course, teams now have a year of tape on Watson, and his streak of seven receiving TDs in four games won’t be easy to replicate. But Watson looks to build on his rookie season and become a more complete receiver and a primary weapon for Love.
In their limited snaps together against the Philadelphia Eagles, the budding Love-Watson connection looked like the start of something beautiful. Love’s third pass after coming in for an injured Aaron Rodgers was a lovely 63-yard touchdown to Watson. They would connect on another 15-yard reception on the next offensive drive.
Now, Love and Watson will have plenty of time in OTAs to build on that connection. They worked out together this off-season to build chemistry as Love approached life as a starter, and both should see a ton of playing time together this summer.
Many people viewed Watson as primarily just a speed option as a rookie, but he showed a good understanding of Green Bay’s route trees. Matt LaFleur said he expects to build on that by having Watson develop his route tree and run more complex routes. His physical abilities alone make him dangerous. But once he evolves into a truly complete receiver, he provides the Packers with a deadly option.
Watson will take his lumps as he adjusts to a role in the spotlight and not having a future Hall of Famer throwing him the ball. But he has all the skills to be one of the league’s top receivers.
So while eyes might focus on the rookies and what they can bring to the offense, don’t forget about the team’s budding WR1. New toys are fun, but rookies aren’t generally great. I expect Watson to be the team’s true breakout player, and he’s the player I’m most excited to see develop this summer.