Expect Packers to Lean on Veteran WRs Early on Over Rookies

June 7, 2022; Green Bay, WI, USA; Sammy Watkins (11) is shown during Green Bay Packers minicamp Tuesday, June 7, 2022 in Green Bay, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
June 7, 2022; Green Bay, WI, USA; Sammy Watkins (11) is shown during Green Bay Packers minicamp Tuesday, June 7, 2022 in Green Bay, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

The hope is that at some point this season, the Green Bay Packers offense can begin to rely on rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs fairly often and in high leverage situations. However, that may not be right away.

Each will have their defined roles early on. Both Doubs and Watson can stretch the field vertically, and each can potentially provide a boost on special teams as a returner–Watson on kick returns and Doubs on punts. Watson can also be utilized as a motion and gadget player with his 4.36 speed.

Experience and production over potential for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers

But when it comes to early playing time and who Aaron Rodgers is going to lean on in the red zone and on third downs, all signs point to Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, and Randall Cobb being the go-to options early on. Although both Watson and Doubs have potential, Rodgers prefers production.

"“I like production over potential,” Rodgers said via Packers.com. “We have some production. We have a lot of potential. So we need to temper expectations and heighten the accountability. I think that’s the most important thing for those guys. There’s guys who’ve done some things in the league and there’s guys that haven’t.”"

Cobb is entering his 12th NFL season and has 845 career targets. He is one of Rodgers’ closest friends, and that connection shows up on the field. While Cobb wasn’t targeted heavily in 2021, he often came up with a key catch on third downs or in the red zone–illustrating the trust that Rodgers has in him.

This will be Watkins’ first season in Green Bay, but he too is experienced as a former top-5 pick in the 2014 draft. Staying healthy has been an issue for Watkins, but when on the field, he has 545 career targets, is averaging 14.5 yards per catch, and recently won a Super Bowl in Kansas City in which he had 98 receiving yards. With the Packers, he will provide Rodgers with a needed veteran presence on the boundary.

Then there is Allen Lazard, who, as Rodgers mentioned, has been the dirty work guy in this offense, but he now has the opportunity to be the team’s No. 1 receiver. Over the last three seasons, Lazard has 158 targets and is averaging over 13 yards per catch, while like Cobb, he has been a trusted target on third downs.

"“Excited about Sammy. Made some plays today. He looks the part. We’ll get Allen back, and Randall. We’ve got three solid right there,” Rodgers told reporters on Tuesday. “And there’s a lot of competition behind those guys.”"

So even though the receiver room may be in flux at the moment, that may not mean that Watson or Doubs are going to be targeted heavily right away, and from a snap count perspective, they very well could be the fourth and fifth options at receiver–at least at the beginning of the season.

Step one for Green Bay’s rookies is to familiarize themselves with Matt LaFleur’s offense while gaining Rodgers’ trust along the way–which we all know is vital to any receiver’s success with the Packers.

"“The most important thing for the young guys right now is to learn the offense, and like I’ve said many times there’s two offenses,” Rodgers said via Packers.com. “There’s the offense on paper and then there’s the offense that gets run on the field.”"

Gaining Rodgers’ trust begins with knowing the playbook inside and out, but as he alluded to above, there are other aspects such as knowing what adjustments need to be made at the line of scrimmage based on the play that is called and how the defense is aligned, along with being in the correct spot, and of course, making the catch when the ball does come their way.

With that said, it’s not only this year’s young receivers that have to earn their playing time, but in recent years, the Packers have often preferred experience over youth–even if those rookies possess high upside.

Since 2018, the only rookies who were preferred starters right away were Darnell Savage and Josh Myers. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson began their rookie seasons behind Kevin King and Tramon Williams, while the following season, Rashan Gary was the third edge rusher behind The Smiths.

Elgton Jenkins didn’t fully take over until Lane Taylor missed time with an injury, AJ Dillon was behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, while Eric Stokes played only eight defensive snaps in Green Bay’s Week 1 matchup with New Orleans.

Many of these players mentioned ended up as starters or played significant snaps and roles as rookies, but it didn’t happen right away, is the point–and that very well could be the case for Watson and Doubs. In fact, I would expect it.

The transition from college to the NFL is no easy feat, and it’s natural that any rookie is going to take their lumps along the way. So while Watson and Doubs adjust to life at the NFL level, learn LaFleur’s system, and gain Rodgers’ confidence, the Packers are going to rely on Watkins, Lazard, and Cobb — their experienced and productive receivers — to handle the workload.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference