2023 Fantasy Football Player Profile: Christian Watson looks to build on late 2022 success

2RGTN4D Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Christian Watson put on a show last November: Watson scored eight touchdowns over four weeks.
  • His competition for targets is minimal: The Green Bay Packers allowed all of their veteran wide receivers and tight ends to leave and replaced them with rookies.
  • Jordan Love‘s transition will hurt his fantasy value: Aaron Rodgers was uniquely suited to get the best out of Watson, so switching to Love will hurt regardless of how well Love plays this season.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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Last updated: 7:15 a.m. Monday, August 14

Christian Watson‘s player outlook

Watson ended last season among the best fantasy football wide receivers. He was WR9 from Week 10 until the end of the season.

  • Watson was drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
  • He had knee surgery last June, which cost him the preseason and training camp.
  • He was still rushed into action in Week 1 with Allen Lazard dealing with an ankle sprain. Watson played in two-thirds of Green Bay's offensive snaps.
  • He suffered another injury in Week 2 and re-aggravated it a few weeks later.
  • He was eased back for Weeks 8 and 9. 
  • Randall Cobb was on injured reserve for a few weeks while Romeo Doubs missed four games with an ankle injury, so the Packers had no choice but to make Watson a full-time starter for Week 10. That was his 100-yard, three-touchdown performance.
  • While he was a top-10 wide receiver over the last half of the season, this was largely due to his seven touchdowns, which all came over a four-week period.
  • He put together three 100-yard games but was held under 50 yards in every other game.
  • While he led all wide receivers in touchdowns over the last nine weeks, he only ranked 28th in targets, 35th in receptions and 19th in yards.
  • His 82.0 receiving grade over the last nine weeks was the most promising number heading into the 2023 season. That ranked 11th-best among wide receivers in that time and suggests he has the talent to deserve more targets.

Competition for touches

Watson is surrounded by other young talent.

  • The Packers allowed wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb to leave for the New York Jets while tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis left for the New York Jets.
  • This leaves Watson as the favorite to lead Green Bay in receiving yards.
  • He played all but one snap with the starters in the Packers' first preseason game. The one snap he missed was after a deep target, which is relatively common for a receiver to take a play off after those situations.
  • It’s a very small sample, but Watson was targeted on three of his nine routes in the first preseason game for a great 33.3% targets per route run.
  • His main competition for targets will be Romeo Doubs, who was a starter at times last season depending on who was healthy, but he is also a clear starter going forward. He played in every snap with the starters in their first game.
  • Doubs’ average depth of target was lower than Watson’s in both the preseason game as well as last season, which could lead Doubs to be a more consistent receiver while Watson is the big play threat.
  • Green Bay spent a second-round pick on Jayden Reed, who consistently lined up in the slot with the Packers' starters.
  • Reed ran five routes from the slot in the preseason game compared to one out wide while Watson ran all of his routes out wide.
  • This could lead to fewer snaps in the slot for Watson, which could be a problem.
  • Watson received an 83.0 PFF receiving grade from the slot, with 25.6% targets per route run and 2.29 yards per route run.
  • When lined up out wide he received a 69.8 PFF receiving grade, 22.8% targets per route and 2.21 yards per route run. 
  • Watson could definitely have a much larger target share this season than last without any veteran wide receivers or tight ends to compete with, but the Packers putting their other receivers in the best positions for them to succeed could limit Watson’s fantasy value.

Impact of teammates

The big concern for Watson is adjusting from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love.

  • A big part of Rodgers' game was his pass accuracy. On passes 10 yards in the air or more, Rodgers was either perfectly accurate or threw away from coverage on 30.2% of his passes last season — the best rate among all quarterbacks.
  • Watson caught six of nine passes for 177 yards when Rodgers was either accurate or threw away from coverage at 10 or more yards in the air and caught 12-of-29 for 239 yards on all other throw accuracies.
  • Love has a 23% accuracy plus percentage when combining the preseason and regular season, which is right around league average.
  • While we can’t perfectly compare preseason performance to regular season, if we project Love as league average instead of Rodgers, that will still mean fewer intermediate/deep catches and fewer yards per catch on those receptions
  • Love’s time to throw has generally been quicker than Rodgers, so there also might not be as many opportunities for those big plays to develop.
  • Love’s big-time throw rate has been lower while his turnover-worthy throw rate is higher. The Packers' offense will generally not be as good, leading to fewer yards and touchdowns in general.
  • Love might have a very good season or he might not, but regardless, it’s pretty safe to say he won’t be as good as the player who won two of the last three MVPs in Year 1 as a starter.

Bottom line

There are plenty of reasons to expect Watson’s breakout to continue, but there are also a number of factors working against him that might lead to a step back in fantasy production.

  • Watson is a talented young player who should be improving and is only facing competition from other second-year or rookie players.
  • The transition to Jordan Love might hurt Watson more than it would typically hurt a receiver based on how the Packers are using Watson, and how the transition will change the offense in general.

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