NFL News & Analysis

The Packers added speed and versatility at wide receiver, but can these guys play?

Christian Watson (9) is shown during Green Bay Packers rookie camp Friday, May 6, 2022 in Green Bay, Wis. Packers07 23

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur made it clear during the pre-draft process that he wanted to add speed at the wide receiver position in the 2022 NFL Draft.

It took until the second round to get the ball rolling, but the Packers traded up to select an all-time athlete in Christian Watson from North Dakota State with the 34th overall pick.

“He's a big, fast, physical receiver. We think his best football is ahead of him,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said during the draft. “Really felt that he’s a really smart kid that we feel will fit our culture. He's got really good tape, his athletic traits are off the chart, and the more we got to know him as a person, we just felt really good about him.”

The Packers completely overhauled their wide receiver room this offseason. They traded star wideout Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders on March 18, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed a three-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs six days later. In less than one week, Green Bay's receiving corps quickly became one of the worst in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers Receivers: 2021
Player Targets Yards PFF WAR
Davante Adams 166 1,553 0.78
Allen Lazard 59 513 0.10
Marquez Valdes-Scantling 49 430 0.11
Randall Cobb 38 375 0.15
Equanimeous St. Brown 16 98 0.00

With the top two options leaving, the Packers were left with Allen Lazard, a 31-year-old Randall Cobb and second-year Amari Rodgers as the top receivers on the depth chart. The limited options remaining in-house left LaFleur and Gutekunst no choice but to prioritize the deep receiver class in the draft.

The Packers were widely expected to take a wide receiver in the first round, but six were chosen inside the top 18 selections before they made their first of two first-round picks at 22nd overall.

Green Bay elected to address the defensive side of the ball with both of its first-round picks before ultimately trading two second-rounders to move up 19 spots and start repairing its receiver room. While Watson may not have been one of the top options heading into the draft, he houses every athletic trait to be a successful pass-catcher in the NFL.

Christian Watson — Pre-draft testing
Test Results Percentile
Arm Length 32.75″ 65th
Hand Size 10.13″ 86th
40-yard dash 4.36s 98th
10-yard split 1.45s 100th
Vertical Jump 39″ 91st
Broad Jump 11’4” 100th

“His combination of size and speed is great. He’s a big guy. He can move. He's going to be a problem once he figures things out, so I’m excited about that,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said following rookie minicamp.

“Christian, he handles himself the right way. Ever since he showed up, he's come in with a great mindset, intelligent, and just ready to learn. That's probably his best attribute right there is just his willingness to really absorb what you have to say and improve on it.”

Green Bay also added Nevada’s Romeo Doubs and Nebraska’s Samori Toure in the fourth and seventh rounds, respectively.

Only time will tell how productive each receiver will be on the field, but all three share a common trait in their games — they are all very fast.

Watson flashed at the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a 4.36 40-yard dash and a 1.45 10-yard split. The North Dakota State product finished the 2021 season with an 89.5 receiving grade, averaged 18.6 yards per reception and led all FCS receivers with 4.33 yards per route run last season.

Doubs clocked a 4.50-second 40 at the Nevada pro day. He graded better every season, finishing with an 83.3 receiving grade as a senior. The Nevada wideout finished his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while leading the FBS with 11 catches and eight touchdowns of 40-plus yards.

Toure ran a 4.48 at the Nebraska pro day while also notching a 6.77-second three-cone, 93rd percentile at the position. The 24-year-old receiver averaged 19.5 yards per catch, 7.6 yards after the catch per reception and 2.72 yards per route run in 2021.

Green Bay Packers' 2022 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Selections (Rank among PFF's Top WR prospects)
Player Receiving Grade Rank
Christian Watson 89.5 7th of 40
Romeo Doubs 83.3 17th of 40
Samori Toure 83.1 N/A

Each receiver is a different size, adding versatility and unique skill sets to the Green Bay attack. Watson is built like an NFL receiver. He showcased excellent route-running ability last season and at the Senior Bowl and can work at all three levels. He and Doubs also have a background as vertical threats in college with the ability to win with speed or in traffic.

In addition to their contributions to the offense, Watson and Doubs have the reps to help out on special teams, as well, whether it’d be handling return duties or on the coverage team. Watson took kick returns last year for North Dakota State and averaged 20.6 kick return yards on 11 attempts. Meanwhile, Doubs has been taking punt returns for Nevada since 2018, where he scored one touchdown and averaged 12.5 punt return yards per attempt over his career.

Toure, on the other hand, has the experience to line up and dominate as a slot receiver. He averaged 22.1 yards per reception and 8.8 yards after the catch per reception from the slot in 2021 — both of which ranked second among FBS wide receivers.

“They're all their own type of receiver, but I do think that they all offer some versatility — whether or not we want to put them inside or outside,” LaFleur said during rookie minicamp. “They're all eager to learn, and we'll just see how much they can handle and how fast they can acclimate themselves to our offense.”

The Packers also signed Danny Davis III from Wisconsin as an undrafted free agent. While he doesn’t possess the high-end 40-yard dash speed, he excels more as a route-runner with the ability to get in and out of his breaks to create separation. Davis ran a 4.18 20-yard shuttle and a 6.94-second three-cone at the combine, both of which ranked in the 75th percentile or better.

“I think we’ve certainly added some competition. I think that was really important,” Gutekunst said last month. “We’re very much of a belief that competition is gonna bring out the best, and the cream’s gonna rise. And that’s something we needed to do, and I think we accomplished that.”

Many people are expecting the rookies to make an immediate impact in light of Adams’ departure and the team’s desire to win now. Adams finished top-three in just about every major statistical category last season, including threat rate (30.1%), explosive plays (40) and yards per route run (2.82).

The 29-year-old made up for 50.3% (1,553) of the yards among Green Bay wide receivers last season, while the wideouts left on the team accounted for just 32.6% (1,005). Adams' 92.7 PFF grade ranked second among receivers last season, yet he was the only Packers wideout to grade north of 71.0. Cobb's 70.1 was next, followed by Valdes-Scantling's 66.1 and Lazard's 65.5.

There will be a sharp learning curve and fine-tuning process to getting comfortable at the next level. The only question is, can they fill the void in enough time?

“It's always about how that group complements one another. I think I’ve talked about that quite a few times — just how you use them. I mean, certainly you're not going to find Davante Adams, at least not initially. Certainly, I don't want to limit any of these guys and say they can't become that,” LaFleur said following the draft.

“It’s a process, and it takes some time, and hopefully we can get these guys up to speed pretty quickly. And it's going to start with just how they attack it and how fast they pick this up. And certainly, we're going to push them to be their best right away because that's what we need from them.”

These rookie receivers have the speed and versatility to succeed at the next level, but as LaFleur said, it all depends on how quickly the group adapts to their offensive system and gains Aaron Rodgers’ trust.

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