Green Bay Packers

Midweek Musings: Watson offers glimpse at potential

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Potential is a dangerous word, but the Green Bay Packers‘ young wide receivers have plenty of it.

Sunday’s highly-anticipated win against the Dallas Cowboys was essential in keeping the Packers’ shrinking playoff hopes alive.

But it also offered a promising glimpse at what could be ahead for Green Bay’s offense.

Make no mistake, Christian Watson’s four-catch, 107-yard, three-touchdown performance was a historic one. It’s the first 100-yard, three-touchdown game by a Packers rookie since James Lofton in 1978. 

And considering the opponent, his stat line also inspired some amusing comparisons to Randy Moss. 

One game, a Hall of Famer does not make. If Watson becomes half the player that Lofton or Moss were, that’s a major win for the Packers.

It was a wonder whether Watson would ever have a moment to shine this season. The transition from North Dakota State, an FCS program that offered limited pass-catching opportunities, to the pros is a difficult one.

Couple that with his injury luck — he missed much of training camp, has been held out of three games with hamstring issues, and exited two other games early — and it’s no wonder he’s struggled to build a rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

As a second-round pick — and one the Packers paid a heavy price for — Watson will always carry the weight of expectation. And because of the quarterback’s age and the sudden void at receiver, it’s easy to be quick to judge Watson as a failed pick.

It doesn’t help matters that other rookie receivers around the league have been such immediate contributors. Chris Olave has Offensive Rookie of the Year potential, while second-rounders George Pickens and Alec Pierce have produced solid numbers so far despite wonky quarterback situations.

Heck, Watson hasn’t even been the Packers’ best rookie, as that distinction belongs to Romeo Doubs.

Acknowledging that he still had some miscues against Dallas, Watson showed why the Packers were enamored with him — and why he has the potential to be better than all those aforementioned rookies.

In comparison to the Packers’ other successful receivers drafted in the last 15 years or so, Watson is such an outlier.

Look at his Relative Athletic Score. Watson’s RAS of 9.96 dwarfs that of Greg Jennings (8.25), Davante Adams (7.22), Jordy Nelson (7.10) or James Jones (6.09).

Now, those numbers speak to the fact that more goes into being a receiver than freak athleticism. Especially in Adams’ and Nelson’s case, those two clicked with Rodgers because they understood the nuances of route-running and defensive coverages.

Watson has a long way to go in that respect, and he may never get there. But it’s clear Rodgers is excited about his potential.

Consider these comments he made on the Pat McAfee Show in October:

“When you watch some of the film back, it’s similar to watching Davante his rookie year. You know there were games where I didn’t give Davante a ton of looks, but you go back and watch the film, and you’re thinking, ‘Man, this guy is open often.’ It’s like that from time to time with Christian. There’s a few routes, I mean not as much as Davante, I just think Davante was a little more polished route-runner as a rookie, but there are a few times where I might need to give him a second look even when things don’t look great from the start because he does have that different type of speed.”

That’s high praise, especially considering to that point Watson’s production was limited to six career receptions. Imagine how Rodgers feels now.

Watson’s only scratched the surface of his potential. For much of the first two months — when he was available, that is — Matt LaFleur limited his touches to sweeps and simplistic routes.

His targets on Sunday weren’t the result of overly complicated plays, but they were a display of what’s in his arsenal.

Watson and Doubs have both struggled with drops. And at 23 and 22 years old, both are still developing NFL bodies.

Give each an entire offseason in an NFL weight room, and you’ll see the dividends in 2023 — whether that be stronger hands, better ability to beat the press, or simply staying healthy.

Their development should be an enticing reason for Rodgers to stick around in 2023. He was asked as much in October, and said “seeing the development of those guys can’t help be part of the decision.”

Whether it be Rodgers, Jordan Love or someone else throwing the ball, Watson and Doubs offer plenty of potential.

Their development could turn what’s long been perceived as a weakness into a strength.

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