Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ Newfound Receiver Depth Is Fueling Their Surge

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers have turned things around. After a predictable yet frustrating start to the Jordan Love era, he has settled in nicely, and the offense has found a rhythm without Aaron Jones, their most valuable skill player. Losses to the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders early on had many wondering who Green Bay could beat and, by extension, how tantalizingly close they might get to Caleb Williams and Drake Maye territory in the draft order.

But after stringing together impressive wins against the Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Kansas Chiefs, they’re not just in playoff contention but have a high probability of landing the sixth or seventh seed. That is likely where the upside ends, though, as the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles will wind up in the top Wild Card spot.

The fact that the teams they are beating are better than the ones they were losing to earlier on is the ultimate testament to the growth that is taking place for the NFL’s youngest offense. However, that Broncos loss doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did at the time. The young core had their breakout game on the national stage when they put the Lions back in their place as massive Thanksgiving underdogs.

If that game was the season’s turning point, then the most pivotal play undoubtedly was the first. Love dropped back off a play-action and found Christian Watson deep in the secondary for 53 yards. It was the epitome of everything Watson was supposed to be coming into 2023 for this offense. But it was also the first time we saw it this season after he struggled to stay on the field and to produce on it.

As well as Love has played and as much recognition as that has gotten, Watson is the other face of these past two signature wins, stacking up 12 catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Just like we saw with Jones in Chicago and Watson himself about this time last year, it transforms the offense when the stars are playing at a high level. There were quite a few plays Sunday night that had us saying, If his hamstrings can hold up, this team could be a problem.

Sadly, his hamstrings did not make it through the game. His injury is not considered serious, but the Packers have ruled him out for Monday night’s game. Fans probably take any optimism with a grain of salt after what they have seen on the injury front these past few years. The rest of the young wideout room must step up if Watson misses serious time. A lot has been made of Brian Gutekunst’s reluctance to spend premium draft capital or money on the open market for a standout pass-catcher. And the group of late-round guys they’ve got have been growing with Love and making the plays that have enabled Green Bay to succeed.

I’m talking about Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed to an extent. But also some of the guys who might get increased reps they wouldn’t have otherwise seen, like fifth-round rookie Dontayvion Wicks and undrafted rookie Malik Heath. The starters each have somewhat of a specialized role. Doubs is the contested-catch guy, Reed is the electric lateral threat, and Watson is the mercurial downfield guy. Watson is in a role where he looks generational when he’s on. Still, he has earned the nickname “FCS MVS” when he’s off. Wicks and Heath have been filling in wherever they’re needed, and Wicks has done a great job finding open space in the middle of the field when Love extends the play. His 374 yards actually narrowly trail Watson’s 422.

Wicks has settled into a routine of seeing four to five targets a game, and everything he’s shown indicates that he’ll be ready for another uptick of work if there is a hole in the starting lineup this week. A preseason standout out of Ole Miss, the Packers have mixed Heath in more sparingly, but he put a defender on a T-shirt on his one catch Sunday. Therefore, I would not be surprised if they also let him loose a little bit. Then there’s Samori Toure, a seventh-round pick in 2022 who hasn’t really been in the mix but we have seen flashes from him dating back to last season.

Watson may have been bringing the juice that has fueled these past two wins, and nobody will argue that he’s a must-have against the deplorable New York Giants. Still, Love has quietly been building a rapport with his entire receiver room. Those guys are going to be ready to go. They aren’t name-brand guys and probably won’t be making your Monday Night Football parlay, but they’re a group that does their job. After all of the mental mistakes that contributed to the offensive struggles of the first seven weeks, it’s refreshing to characterize this young skill core as reliable. But these past few weeks have been that type of 180 on all fronts, and with the opponents remaining on Green Bay’s schedule, it’s hard not to see that continuing.

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Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman via USA TODAY Sports

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