While all of the focus from fans and media is on new Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Jordan Love and his ability to lead his team to success, concerned observers would be well served looking beyond the obvious as well.
Like, for example, who will be there to catch Love’s passes.
This is where the Packers may have a diamond in the semi-rough and a slightly off the radar key to a solid playoff run this season.
Wide receiver Christian Watson will be coming into his second NFL year after a rookie season that started poorly, but then finished strongly with glimpses of his fully actualized self.
The second round draft pick from North Dakota State finished the 2022 season with a total of 611 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 14.9 yards per catch. However, most of his shine came over the last eight games of the year where he had all seven of his receiving touchdowns and averaged 16.9 yards per catch.
Things started ominously, though.
In his very first NFL play, against the Minnesota Vikings, Watson beat eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson in coverage, but then proceeded to drop what should’ve been a glorious 75-yard touchdown reception.
It would be a rough start to a fairly rough first half of the season (with some injury issues thrown in), but the promise of what Watson could be was there and, to his credit, he had the discipline and mental toughness to get where he needed to go as a player. When firing on all cylinders and working at his 100% best, the rookie ranked among the better receivers in the league in several categories.
The numbers also clearly show the impact a fully actualized Watson had on the success of the Packers.
Playing in six of Green Bay’s first nine games, Watson only caught 10 passes for a total of 88 yards. In that span of time, the team went 3-6, averaging only 17.1 points per game.
Over the final eight games of the season, Watson made 31 receptions for 523 yards and scored seven touchdowns and even notched a rushing touchdown. In that run, the team averaged 27 points per game and went 5-3.
Watson, who has always been touted as a player with game-changing ability and a knack for fighting his way to contested receptions, has also earned a reputation as one of the best deep-ball receivers in the NFL, as well as one with high-end yards-after-catch prowess. With wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb leaving via free agency, he’ll certainly get his chance to be THE man when it comes to being a pass catcher. Many expert observers are picking the 24-year-old to have an explosive breakthrough 2023 season.
If that’s the case, 2023 could be significantly brighter than expected and Jordan Love’s job could be significantly less stressful.