Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs showed potential for bright future with strong rookie seasons at wide receiver

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette

Third in a 2022 Packers position analysis with grades and biggest needs.

GREEN BAY – From the season’s opening drive, it was clear the Green Bay Packers were going to need patience in their quest to replace Davante Adams.

You remember Christian Watson’s dropped touchdown on the first snap at Minnesota. It became a signature play in a season of close, but not close enough. Four plays later, Romeo Doubs cut an in route on third-and-7. He was open against Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr.

Aaron Rodgers’ pass sailed in the opposite direction, wide to the sideline, incomplete.

“I threw that one away,” Rodgers said after the loss.

There were more stumbles as Watson and Doubs navigated their rookie seasons. Doubs dropped a game-sealing touchdown Week 4 in New England, allowing overtime. Rodgers said Watson missed a pre-snap signal Week 15 against the Los Angeles Rams. Both missed a month of the season with injuries.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson does a backflip in the end zone after scoring against Dallas.

They were not ready-made copies of Adams. No rookie could be. Check the full picture at the end of their first NFL season, and something is unmistakably clear.

The Packers couldn’t have asked for much more from a pair of rookie receivers sharing the field with a demanding quarterback.

Their first seasons were on par with what former Packers greats Adams, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Greg Jennings produced as rookies. In a tumultuous season, nothing was more promising than visualizing what Watson and Doubs might do sharing the field in the future. That doesn’t mean either will reach their full potential, but it’s a promising start.

The good: Christian Watson's four-game touchdown barrage

For four games, Christian Watson was Randy Moss. The lack of hyperbole in that statement indicates how much potential the No. 34 pick in last year’s draft has as an NFL receiver. Starting Week 10 against Dallas, Watson uncorked a torrid streak of eight touchdowns in four games. Moss is the only other rookie in NFL history to have eight touchdowns in four games. Watson had just 15 catches on 27 targets in that stretch, but his game-changing speed made him an overnight sensation. Seven of his touchdowns were caught, but it was his eighth – on a jet sweep – that showed he has the speed to break any NFL defense. Watson took the handoff to the left side with less than 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter at Chicago. He got one block from Sammy Watkins on the perimeter, but probably didn’t even need that. Watson toasted the Bears defense, racing untouched for a 46-yard touchdown to seal the first of four straight victories. In truth, Watson profiles as something more than a receiver. He’s a playmaker coach Matt LaFleur can use creatively in his scheme, able to score touchdowns from anywhere on the field.

The bad: Not using a high draft pick on a receiver before 2022

Let’s not wash over how much of a disservice it was to the Packers offense – to their season as a whole – to be put in a position to rely so heavily on rookies replacing maybe the league’s best receiver. Of the 21 wide receivers with at least 1,000 yards last season, 14 were drafted since Brian Gutekunst became general manager. Six of the 14 were on the board after Gutekunst’s first pick. After leading the NFL in yards and catches this season, Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson might be remembered as the receiver who got away. Yes, it hurt to watch Jefferson selected four picks before the Packers had a chance in 2020. What isn’t discussed as often: seven picks after Gutekunst drafted Jordan Love, Cincinnati drafted Tee Higgins. Back in 2018, Gutekunst selected cornerback Josh Jackson with the 47th overall pick in the second round of his first draft. Arizona drafted Christian Kirk two picks later. Gutekunst drafted tight end Jace Sternberger with the 75th overall pick in the third round of 2019. Washington drafted Terry McLaurin one pick later. “I can’t believe the Packers didn’t draft McLaurin,” Sternberger, now playing in the USFL, tweeted after McLaurin almost single-handedly beat the Packers in Week 7. Gutekunst drafted Amari Rodgers with the 85th overall pick in the third round of 2021. Detroit drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown early in the fourth round, despite older brother Equanimous St. Brown being on the Packers’ roster. Any one of those receivers could have helped keep the season afloat when Adams left, alleviating pressure on Watson and Doubs. There will be misses in every draft, but Gutekunst left a lot of opportunities over the past several years to keep his receiver depth chart stocked.

Biggest need: Adding a top-notch veteran or high draft pick

The Packers’ recent approach at receiver has not been short on experimentation, from seeing if Sammy Watkins had any juice left after injuries derailed his career, to trying Allen Lazard as their No. 1 target. What the Packers need is a proven No. 1 receiver, someone who can lead their blossoming rookies into Year 2. The problem is proven No. 1 receivers don’t become available often, and usually there’s good reason if they do. The Packers might be tempted to pursue DeAndre Hopkins if Arizona decides to trade the potential Hall of Famer this offseason, but injuries and a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs forced him to miss 14 games the past two seasons, and he turns 31 years old this fall. In lieu of tapping into a barren market full of risk, the Packers could use another early draft pick to build their receiver depth chart this spring. Even if developing a young receiving core with premium assets is a delayed approach, it’s worth adding talent around Watson and Doubs.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs signals for a first down.


Christian Watson: After slow start, proved he belonged in loaded rookie receiving class. Rare size (6-4, 208 pounds) and speed (4.36 40) enticed Packers to trade two second-round picks to move up to No. 34 in draft. Offseason knee surgery cost most of training camp. Missed three games early in season with two hamstring injuries. Dropped out of Week 9 game in Buffalo with concussion on opening drive. A week later, took hard shot on catch to convert third-and-4 in Detroit and was removed for precautionary reasons. At that point, had only 10 catches for 88 yards in six games played. Only touchdown came on a 15-yard jet sweep against New England in Week 4. Season, and potentially career, turned around on third-and-1 deep ball in second quarter against Dallas in Week 10. Beat Cowboys corner Anthony Brown down right sideline for 58-yard touchdown. After backflipping in end zone, caught two more touchdown passes against Dallas, becoming first Packers rookie since James Lofton in 1978 to catch three scores in a game. With renewed confidence, game-breaking speed took over. Took slant pass from Jordan Love for 63-yard touchdown two weeks later, outracing safeties Reed Blankenship and Markus Epps down left sideline. Caught fourth-down touchdown before halftime in Chicago. In fourth quarter, took jet sweep 46 yards to seal victory, his eighth touchdown in a four-game stretch. Finished with 41 catches, 611 yards, nine total touchdowns (seven receiving), best rookie season for Packers receiver since Greg Jennings in 2006 (45 catches, 632 yards, three touchdowns). Seven drops on 66 targets. Broke two tackles and made two more miss, leading receivers with four total. Three 100-yard outings in final eight games, also leading receivers. Showed speed wasn’t only tool with handful of physical catches down stretch. Jumped over Tennessee corner Kristian Fulton in end zone for 14-yard touchdown on free play. Held on after taking hard shot from Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson on 21-yard post route to convert fourth-and-5. Knocked out of game from another hard shot against Miami safety Eric Rowe after 10-yard catch on fourth-and-1. Best catch of season came in finale, beating Detroit corner Amani Oruwariye down right sideline for 45-yard catch despite defensive pass interference penalty. Capable blocker out of North Dakota State’s run-oriented program, cleared Rams corner Cobie Durant to spring 7-yard touchdown for Aaron Jones off bubble screen. If injuries don’t deter, has star potential entering second season. Grade: B

More:How Packers rookie Christian Watson found 'poetic justice' with one backflip, launching his career

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard pulls in a 35-yard reception against the New York Jets.

Allen Lazard: Catapulted to top of depth chart after Davante Adams trade, but production didn’t increase as much as role in offense. Led receivers with 863 snaps in 15 games after missing Week 1 with ankle injury. Also missed Week 9 trip to Buffalo after dropping out one week earlier in Washington with shoulder injury. Finished with team-high 100 targets, 60 catches and 788 yards, each career highs. Added six touchdowns, but only one after Week 9. Chemistry with Aaron Rodgers made him most proven deep-ball catcher first half of season, securing 20-yard pass in six of first nine games. Just two 20-yard catches in last six games. Tied for most drops with nine. One broken tackle with another missed. Called for illegal shift penalty Week 3 at Tampa Bay. Blocking remains strength of his game. Lead block on Patriots defensive back Myles Bryant paved 17-yard run for Aaron Jones on fourth-and-1, extending touchdown drive to open second half. Blocked three Dolphins defenders on 18-yard toss to Jones on Christmas. Lacks athleticism but able to use reputation as blocking receiver to make plays in passing game. Sold run block before catching 20-yard touchdown in Detroit. Same in overtime week later against Dallas, selling block before catching 36-yard pass off play-action on third-and-1 to set up game-winning field goal. A possession-type receiver, but does the dirty work well. Likely to test free agent market. Grade: C-plus

Romeo Doubs: Strong start to training camp indicated fourth-round pick could be early contributor. Came out of gates strong, catching first career touchdown on third down Week 3 at Tampa Bay. Led receivers catching all eight targets for 73 yards that week. Fumbled next week against New England on low throw from Rodgers on screen pass, later dropped potential game-sealing touchdown in end zone. In between, caught second touchdown of season against Patriots on third-down, back-shoulder throw. Catch of the year came on 19-yard touchdown Week 9 at Buffalo, adjusting in back right corner of end zone to snag Rodgers pass over corner Taron Johnson. Has potential to be good hands catcher, but inconsistent. Tied for most drops on team with nine on 67 targets. Bad drop in finale against Detroit on Rodgers laser down right sideline. Blocking was a knock coming into draft, but showed physicality driving Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson into end zone on 4-yard touchdown catch for Lazard. Showed vision to set up blocks as ball carrier on 20-yard screen pass Week 2 against Bears, but must become stronger this offseason. Broke only one tackle in 43 touches. Finished with 42 catches, 425 yards and three touchdowns, almost mirroring Adams’ rookie season (38 catches on 66 targets, 446 yards, three touchdowns). Grade: C

Randall Cobb: Chemistry with Rodgers has prolonged 32-year-old's career. Often go-to target on third down, caught 34 of 50 targets for 417 yards and one touchdown. Had four drops, fewest among top four receivers. Minimal playmaking ability, broke two tackles with another missed. Lack of height exacerbates steep decline in speed. Unable to win jump ball in single coverage downfield on Rodgers interception to Harrison Smith in Week 1. Despite production, presence on roster prevented Packers from getting better look at rookie Samori Toure. Scheduled to become free agent in March. Grade: D-plus

Green Bay Packers receiver Samori Toure catches a 37 yard touchdown pass against Buffalo.

Samori Toure: Seventh-round pick was maybe biggest mystery on offense. Appeared to be emerging midway through season. Showed veteran coverage recognition working to second window for 37-yard touchdown catch in Buffalo. A week later, caught two passes for 34 yards in Detroit and could’ve had more. Beat coverage downfield for potential touchdown against Lions, but Rodgers underthrew him. Got open again on second-and-17 scramble drill, but Rodgers bounced pass. Fumbled late against Detroit after 32-yard catch on fourth-and-2 extended potential game-winning drive, but retained possession after Lions couldn’t recover inbounds. Despite being second-fastest receiver on team, snaps evaporated shortly after. Finished with 112 snaps, 73 coming between Weeks 7 and 10. Caught five passes for 82 yards and touchdown in 11 games. Just two special teams reps. Grade: D

Sammy Watkins: Signed during offseason when Packers took a flyer on oft-injured veteran. Caught deep ball for 55 yards Week 2 against Bears, part of three-catch, 93-yard night. Tore hamstring in following Wednesday’s practice, placing him on injured reserve. Didn’t return until Week 7. Clutch catch in return game at Washington for 36 yards, giving last-ditch lateral play a chance. Made minimal impact rest of way before being released during Week 14 bye. Finished with 13 catches for 206 yards and no touchdowns in nine games. Managed just 279 snaps. Grade: D-minus

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Amari Rodgers: Another failed third-round pick in a growing list for Brian Gutekunst. Aside from issues as punt returner, never produced as receiver. Dropped potential touchdown pass from Rodgers down right sideline in Washington. Called for false start one week later in Buffalo. Released after Keisean Nixon grabbed punt return job in Week 10. In second season, caught four of eight targets for 50 yards in 10 games. Grade: F

Juwann Winfree: In third season with Packers, former Denver sixth-round pick was an afterthought. Played just 35 snaps. Added 22 special teams reps. Only catch of season on four targets came Week 1 in Minnesota for 17 yards. Dropped one pass against Jets. Grade: Incomplete

Bo Melton: Seventh-round rookie drafted by Seattle, signed to Packers 53-man roster in late December after spending rookie season on Seahawks practice squad. Never appeared in a game. Grade: Incomplete