Packers rookie review: WR Christian Watson

The Green Bay Packers made 11 picks during the 2022 NFL draft: six offensive players and five defensive players. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going through and reviewing the 2022 season for all of the Packers’ rookies.

Next up: wide receiver Christian Watson, the 34th overall pick who the Packers traded up for in the second round with Minnesota, sending the Vikings picks No. 53 and 59 in return.

Snap counts

Injuries were, unfortunately, a big part of the first half of the season for Christian Watson. He was on the field for 507 total offensive snaps or 46% of the Packers’ offensive plays. For some context, Allen Lazard had the most snaps at receiver for the Packers with 863. However, once fully healthy, Watson became a mainstay and integral part of the Packers’ offense from Week 10 and beyond.

Season stats

Watson finished his rookie season catching 41 of his 65 targets (63.1%) for 611 at 14.9 yards per catch with seven touchdowns. Of Watson’s total targets, nearly one-third came at 20 or more yards downfield. He was also a very efficient target from the slot for the Packers, averaging 2.29 yards per route run, the 15th-best rate in football. Matt LaFleur would manufacture some touches in the run game for Watson as well. He finished the year with seven rushes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 46-yard run against Chicago in Week 13 that put the game away. And while we can’t exactly quantify Watson’s impact in the run game, he was a very willing and capable blocker. Without question, Watson did a lot of good, but through the first half of the season, dropped passes were an issue. He finished the season with five in total, the second-most on the team.

PFF grade

When it was all said and done, Watson graded out quite well by PFF’s metrics. Overall he ranked 22nd out of 103 eligible receivers and 22nd in receiving grade. In what was a talented 2022 wide receiver draft class, Watson finished with the fourth-best grade, trailing Drake London, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave by a few points.

Best game

Without question, Watson’s best game came in Week 10 against Dallas – not only because of the stat line he put up but also because of the impact it had on him the rest of the season. Watson finished with four receptions for 107 yards and three touchdowns in a game that the Packers had to win in overtime to essentially keep their season alive. Perhaps even more impressive is that Watson put up this stat line following two drops to start the game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers would also point out on a few occasions in the following weeks that Watson’s confidence took a major step forward following the 58-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown catch he had early on. This was the turning point in the season for him.

Season recap, future outlook

To put it simply, Watson was game-changing for this Packers offense. Prior to his emergence, opposing defenses were crowding the line of scrimmage, taking away the quick passing game, and daring Green Bay to run the ball because they just weren’t afraid of getting beat over the top. After the Week 10 game, however, both Rodgers and Matt LaFleur talked about how defenses began playing the Packers differently because of Watson’s presence, which not only provided big play ability but also opened up the run game along with opportunities for other pass catchers with the attention that he drew. It’s not a coincidence that the offense began putting up points at a much higher rate starting in Week 10.

Moving forward, Watson will be the focal point of the Packers’ passing game. While being a home run threat will draw much of the attention, as we saw, he can be effective out of the slot as well as with the ball in his hands as a ball carrier. Getting him as many touches as possible should be at the top of the weekly game-planning to-do list for LaFleur. One area that GM Brian Gutekunst mentioned that he would like to see Watson – along with fellow rookies Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure – improve in Year 2 is in his ability to shake press coverage.

Season grade

Between the drops and missed time due to injuries, Watson’s rookie season wasn’t going as anyone had hoped. However, credit to him for the turnaround that took place, one that certainly not every receiver would have been able to make. Green Bay may have missed the playoffs, but without Watson’s emergence, they wouldn’t have been anywhere near the win-and-in scenario that they found themselves in during Week 18.

Grade: B+

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire