The Green Bay Packers are heading into a 2023 season that sees them with the most inexperienced wide receiver room in the NFL. With Jordan Love under center, Green Bay is banking on their three wide receivers from last year to make a substantial leap, as well as on their draft picks this year to produce right away.
Of course, their three wide receivers from last season are Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Toure. Of these three, Toure played the least in 2022, hauling in just five passes for 82 yards and a single touchdown.
Going into the season, Watson and Doubs are considered to be the team’s top two wide receivers, and rightly so. They had the best seasons between the three. However, history shows that Toure should not be counted out as a highly productive wide receiver despite his low-usage as a rookie.
Some of the Green Bay Packers Best Wide Receivers Got Off to Slow Starts Like Samori Toure
Wide receivers entering the NFL today are more ready for professional ball than ever before. That being said, it has been rare for Packers wide receivers to make an instant splash. Even the great Sterling Sharpe had just one touchdown reception has a rookie (he also had 55 receptions for 791 yards).
The greatest season for a rookie wide receiver in Packers history was Billy Howton’s in 1952. That season, he hauled in 53 receptions for 1,231 yards and 13 touchdowns. Indeed, no rookie wide receiver has come close to that level of production throughout the team’s long history.
In fact, many of the wide receivers that Packers fans hold dear now got off to slow starts to their careers.
If Davante Adams had not requested a trade and stayed with Green Bay, he likely would have gone down as the greatest wide receiver in team history. The holder of just about every single-season Packers receiving record, Adams was and still is held in high regard by fans.
It was not always that way, though. As a rookie, Adams caught 38 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns. Not terrible numbers, but he had drop issues. The issues were so bad that after his second season (50 receptions for 483 yards and one touchdown), many fans called for his release.
Of course, that did not happen and the Packers’ patience paid off. In his third season, Adams had 75 receptions for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns. After that, he made five-straight Pro Bowls and two First Team All Pro teams with the Packers.
Now, Adams may have gotten off to a slow start by his standards now, but Jordy Nelson‘s beginning was even less productive. It also took him longer to establish himself as Green Bay’s top wide receiver and Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target.
As a rookie in 2008 (Rodgers’ first season as a starter), Nelson had 33 receptions for 366 yards and two touchdowns. He would record just two touchdowns in each of the next two seasons as well (22 receptions for 320 yards in 2009 and 45 receptions for 582 yards in 2010).
After a breakout game in Super Bowl XLV (nine receptions for 140 yards and one touchdown), Nelson finally established himself as a primary target in 2011. That year, he had 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.
After an injury shortened 2012, Nelson posted back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons in 2013 and 2014.
Nelson missed the entire 2015 season due to a torn ACL, but returned in 2016 to put 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and a NFL-leading 14 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
While Adams and Nelson got off to slow starts by the standards they set for themselves later, they still had hundreds of yards receiving in their rookie seasons. What about pass catchers who did not?
Robert Brooks, of course, is remembered as one of the Packers’ best receiving weapons in the mid-1990’s. However, his career did not start out that way.
In his rookie season, Brooks played all 16 games, but had just 12 receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown. His second season was not much better. In 1993, Brooks had 20 receptions for 180 yards and no scores.
Brooks eclipsed 600 yards receiving in 1994 and in 1995 had 102 receptions for 1,497 yards (then a team record) and 13 touchdowns. 1996, the Super Bowl year, saw Brooks limited to just seven games due to a nasty broken leg.
1997, though, saw Brooks come back with another 1,000+ yard season. Injuries derailed what could have been a long and immensely productive career, but he proved slow starts to start one’s career do not define that career.
While the previously named wide receivers on this list took multiple years to attain the level of play they are remembered for, Antonio Freeman immediately bounced back from a poor rookie season to establish himself as one of Green Bay’s best weapons.
As a rookie in 1995, Freeman had just eight receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown while playing in just 11 games. The very next season, he erupted for 56 receptions for 933 yards and nine touchdowns. He played part of the season with a broken arm, but still was an effective receiver.
Between 1997-1999, Freeman put up three-consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons. His 1998 season saw him haul in 84 passes for a NFL-leading 1,424 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was a First Team All Pro.
Even as Freeman started to see his production decline in 2000 and 2001, he still put up over 800 yards in each season.
There is no doubt that Allen Lazard is not as great as the other wide receivers on this list. That being said, his jump from his rookie year production to what he became from the Packers is quite impressive.
As an undrafted rookie in 2018, Lazard caught just one pass for seven yards. That’s it. He appeared in 13 games, but received just one target in the passing game all season long.
The next year, 2019, Lazard had 35 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns. An injury-riddled 2020 season had him catch 33 passes for 451 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.
In 2021, Lazard was better, catching 40 passes for 513 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, he was the team’s leading receiver with 60 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns.
Again, this is not the level of production that was attained by the others on this list. However, to go from one catch for seven yards to the team’s leading wide receiver in a season is quite the jump.
Now if there was ever a great example of a poor rookie season not defining a career, it would be that of the Packers’ all-time leading wide receiver, Donald Driver. Now, Driver is remembered for his 10,317 yards, Super Bowl championship, three Pro Bowls, and incredible smile. But like many on this list, it took a while for him to reach that level.
As a seventh-round pick in 1999, Driver did not see the field much as a rookie. In six games played, he caught three passes for 31 yards and touchdown. The next season was better, but still forgettable (21 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown) and 2001 was worse (13 receptions for 167 yards and one touchdown).
And then, in 2002, Driver erupted for 70 receptions, 1,064 yards, and nine touchdowns. He made his first career Pro Bowl that year as well.
After a bit of a regression in 2003 (52 receptions for 621 yards and two touchdowns), Driver rattled off six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007, and helped ease the transition from Favre to Rodgers.
Driver spent his entire career in the Green and Gold, and is undoubtedly an inspiring example of overcoming adversity.
Like Driver, Toure is a seventh round pick that did not play much as a rookie. Now, no one is saying he is going to be the next Driver; but he should not be written off going forward.