Christian Watson had 41 receptions for 611 yards last season. Looking at these total numbers, it’s difficult to precisely measure how impactful he really was as a rookie for the Green Bay Packers. But context matters, and the context indicates Watson has a genuine shot to become an elite receiver next year. He just needs more volume.
The first factor is that Watson had to manage hamstring issues through training camp and the start of the regular season. He played 14 games, only started in 11, and didn’t break out until Week 10 — the fateful three-touchdown game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field. He also had to adapt going from North Dakota State to the NFL, which is a big leap. And, in general, rookies have had a hard time playing with Aaron Rodgers. Those points resulted in Watson being only fifth on the team in targets, behind Allen Lazard, Aaron Jones, Robert Tonyan, and fellow rookie Romeo Doubs.
Even with all those negative factors, Watson was impressively productive, efficient, and explosive. He averaged 9.3 yards per target and 2.26 yards per route run. To put that in perspective, only five other rookie receivers had at least nine yards per target and two yards per route run since 2019: Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown, and Deebo Samuel. He’s the rookie with the most receiving yards and touchdowns in the Rodgers era for the Packers.
Watson was also a big factor in the red zone — and scoring in general. He finished the season with seven receiving and two rushing touchdowns. He became the first rookie wide receiver to score eight total touchdowns in a four-game span since Randy Moss in 1998. Even being seventh in receptions among rookie wide receivers last season, Watson led the group in receiving touchdowns, tied with Jahan Dotson.
Green Bay thinks those numbers are sustainable. The coaching staff believes Watson has the chance to keep putting together what he’s already shown on his college tape.
“When we watched him in college, there were some plays on a jet sweep or kickoff return, and what you saw on the Philly clip is more what I saw in college,” Packers wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Jason Vrable said during the season. “What he did with the ball in his hands, there were very few guys in this draft class who could take a ball on the jet sweep and run 50 yards, and nobody is within 10 yards of him on the tape.”
Watson’s impact was felt all over the offense. Green Bay’s quarterbacks (combining Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love) had a 123.3 passer rating, third among WRs, for Watson. Moreover, between Weeks 1 and 9, the Packers’ offense was 28th in points per drive. They jumped to fifth after Week 10.
“They (opposing defenses) are going to have to cover the whole field, which will only open up other guys and the run game a bit more,” Watson said last year about his impact on the rest of the unit. “So hoping to go forward, continue to stretch the field more, and make defenses cover all 11 (players).”
Next year the Packers won’t have Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, Sammy Watkins, or Marcedes Lewis, who combined for 246 targets. They’ve only added rookies to the wide receiver and tight end rooms, so it’s evident Watson will become a more prominent part of the offense if he’s able to stay healthy.
The Packers moved in a different direction, prioritizing younger options to grow together alongside Jordan Love. The young tight ends, plus Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, Bo Melton, Dontayvion Wicks, and Grant DuBose, might all be valuable pieces to the offense. But no receiving weapon is more important than Christian Watson right now. He has a real shot to be elite. With three more years on his rookie contract, he should generate an impactful surplus value for the team to build around him. But Watson has to stay on the field to add volume. Still, if he’s able to keep his efficiency with more snaps and targets, there’s no limit to what he can do for this offense.