When it became evident that the Green Bay Packers would have to dive into the free-agent wide receiver pool, most fans were hoping for a big swing for a name like Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. Instead, the Packers landed veteran Sammy Watkins.
Watkins was a stud with the Buffalo Bills in his first two years in the league. But it’s been a roller-coaster ride filled with injuries and uninspiring numbers since those 2014 and 2015 seasons. So how, exactly, does he factor into a Green Bay wide receiver room filled with plenty of mystery?
Green Bay drafted three wide receivers, with North Dakota State product Christian Watson the headliner as an early second-round selection.
The depth chart right now can be split into some fairly obvious groups at wideout. The two have been around a bit, know the system, and know Aaron Rodgers well. More importantly, Rodgers knows them well. We’re talking about Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard.
Neither is a No. 1 wide receiver. It’s even a stretch to think either would be a consistent No. 2. Green Bay is engulfed in a scenario where they probably won’t have that one shining wideout who constantly draws additional attention and racks up targets and receptions. They at least won’t have it right away. The unknown is how Watson, not Watkins, pans out.
Rookies like Watson, Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure, and second-year wideout Amari Rodgers fill the second group. The latter might as well have a rookie designation, given the lack of playing time he saw last year.
Then there’s Watkins, on a tier all on his own. He has Lazard and Cobb’s veteran presence, but he has never played with Rodgers. Watkins has the mystery and intrigue like the rookies, which evokes optimism in some and pessimism in others.
What’s clear from the last few years of Watkins’ career is that the Packers would be wise not to expect him to be a consistent contributor. Watkins had 125 receptions in his first two seasons in the NFL. He has 116 combined in the last three years, and he’s topped 50 receptions just one time in the previous six years.
After three average years in Kansas City playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Watkins spent last season in Baltimore. In the last five weeks of the regular season, Watkins accumulated only 61 total snaps and didn’t tally a single reception.
He played on a Baltimore Ravens team with some talent at wide receiver, but they certainly weren’t a team with a full shelf. Still, Watkins fell completely out of favor in the last month of the season. However, he isn’t a 32-year-old wideout on the last legs of his career. It may seem that way because Watkins has had so many brutal injuries that are out of his control, but he’s still just 28-years-old.
The best estimate for what Watkins could be for the Packers, a team that may be starving for constant production at wide receiver, is a player who will appear as a blip on the radar for three or four games during the year and otherwise not be much of a factor. He’ll have Rodgers as his quarterback, but Watkins played with Mahomes for three years, and his numbers were underwhelming.
Nobody anointed Watkins as the savior at wideout when he was signed, but there still is a pocket of fans who believe he can turn back the clock and have one incredible year in Green Bay. However, every indicator suggests that is far-fetched. Watkins can still be a factor, but it will come in short spurts. It won’t be anywhere close to every week. As a result, Green Bay will lean on Cobb and Lazard and keep their fingers crossed that Amari Rodgers or Watson burst onto the scene.
His familiarity with Jason Vrable will work in Watkins’ favor. The Packers’ wide receiver coach and passing-game coordinator was in Buffalo during Watkins’ first two years in the league. Vrable believes Watkins can play a big role on the offense.
“I talked to Sammy about it the other day. The way he was running some routes and catching, it reminded me of when he first walked on the field. The biggest thing had been some injuries, if you looked at the thing. But he know he’s going to work as hard as he can. He’s here doing all the workouts right now in conditioning. He feels good where his body is at. One thing you’ll see with him is he plucks the ball different. He has hands where you’ll hear the pluck and running through catch, and his play strength.”
While it all sounds fine and dandy, the wide receiver coach and passing-game coordinator should be the hype man for a veteran wideout trying to show there’s gas left in the tank.
Watkins can make his mark in the 2022 season for the Packers. But those moments will likely be few and far between, even on a team with uncertainty at wide receiver. If he just stays healthy and on the field, it may be the best gift Watkins could give Green Bay.