Training camp is less than two weeks away for the Green Bay Packers. As part of my preview, I will be highlighting all 91 players on the Packers roster as I make my way through each position group, taking a look at what I’ve seen during the offseason programs, where things stand, expectations, and more. I’ll also be making a final roster prediction as well.
Up next are the wide receivers, another group, like the tight ends, with a lot of potential but also one with an immense amount of inexperience. The Packers’ wide receiver room is the youngest in the NFL. From a tenure standpoint, Jeff Cotton is the elder, having been in the league since 2020 as an undrafted rookie. In terms of playing time, the most experienced player is Romeo Doubs, with 529 snaps.
If there is a position group that the Packers could entertain adding to in free agency, the receiver is certainly one of them, given that with inexperience often comes inconsistency, and Green Bay needs to make sure they put enough around first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love. However, as I discussed here, I don’t believe that is the route they will go. Instead, the Packers seem prepared to weather that storm, with the hope that the practice reps and in-game snaps will help shorten the inevitable learning curve and lead to a greater impact sooner.
Although this is a position group short on NFL snaps, what they do have is speed and versatility. This is an extremely fast group, which in itself will stress defenses, but the ability that many within this position have to line up all over the formation will also help create the illusion of complexity that LaFleur has discussed, which in short, creates mismatches and keeps defenses guessing in regards to what the responsibility of each player is.
The good news for the Packers is that many successful NFL receivers have seen a significant jump in production during their second seasons. If this offense is going to find any consistent success, it’s paramount that both Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs follow suit.
If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them all below:
To put it simply, Christian Watson was a game-changer for this Green Bay Packers offense during the second half of the 2022 season, and not only because of the gaudy numbers and big plays he generated. His presence opened things up for the rest of the offense.
One key contributor to the Packers’ early struggles on offense was due to their opponents not being fearful of getting beat downfield. This led to them playing closer to the line of scrimmage, shrinking the field and making it more difficult to move the ball on the ground and through the quick passing game, which the Packers relied on somewhat heavily, given the injuries to the offensive line. However, Watson’s speed played a factor in creating better spacing, which resulted in more room to operate and more opportunities for others within the offense.
Although known for his home run abilities, as I wrote about in a recent article, Watson was actually targeted in just about every area of the field. Also, about one-third of his snaps came lined up in the slot, where he was one of the more efficient receivers in football. Matt LaFleur said earlier this offseason that we will see Watson tasked with running a greater variety of routes in 2023. In part, this is a necessity given the receiver room, but he’s also too talented to only be a vertical threat. Expect to see Watson targeted heavily over the middle of the field, where there will be space and more one-on-one opportunities.
Romeo Doubs may have drawn much of the attention during the offseason programs – more on that in a second – but a deep ball from Jordan Love to Watson with Jaire Alexander as the nearest defender was a quick reminder of his capabilities. By all accounts, Watson has embraced his new leadership role, and as LaFleur added, the difference between this offseason and last is night and day.
As I’ve already alluded to, Doubs was one of the standout performers from OTAs and minicamp. Throughout many of the team drills, he was often a go-to target for Love. Following one of the practices, I asked Doubs if he believed that he had built some chemistry with Love; he agreed and added that the two had spent some time this offseason working out together away from the facility.
Along with the rapport that Love and Doubs have, Doubs also credits his fast start this Spring to playing faster, which is a product of his familiarity and experience within the LaFleur system. I saw this on display during the first minicamp practice in which Doubs was able to beat Alexander one-on-one during a red zone drill, creating enough space on a corner route where he made the catch in the back left corner of the end zone. Alexander would acknowledge after practice that it was a nice play by Doubs and one that probably wasn’t going to happen last offseason as a rookie.
Like Watson, Doubs’ rookie season was derailed by injuries, but he was someone who made some noise right away. Doubs is a great compliment to Watson from a skill set standpoint with his ability to run a variety of routes. LaFleur would say during the NFL Owners’ Meeting that while Doubs, of course, needs refinement, he doesn’t believe there is a route that he can’t run. We will see Doubs’ route tree continue to grow as he takes on a larger role within the offense, but from the sounds of it, we will see him targeted at all levels of the field and lining up both inside and out.
Despite playing just over 100 snaps as a rookie and having fewer than 10 targets, Samori Toure is one of the veterans in this receiver room. He’s also received a lot of attention this offseason, with wide receivers coach Jason Vrable saying that we wouldn’t even recognize Toure with the growth he has had. Over the offseason, Toure put on about eight pounds–this was to help with his durability through a long NFL season, but it will also be beneficial for him in the run game.
Throughout the open practices during OTAs and minicamp, Toure was consistently the fourth wide receiver behind Watson, Doubs, and rookie Jayden Reed, often playing from the slot. With that said, once Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas were back in the mix, it was Toure who was getting more regular targets than Reed, perhaps showcasing the value of his experience in the offense and in the NFL.
One specific role that Toure can carve out this season is as a downfield target, where he was one of the more efficient receivers during his final season at Nebraska. Of course, we will still see Watson and others filling that role, but with Watson taking on more route-running responsibilities, it’s still going to be important that the offense has that element to help spread the defense out.
At 5’11” – 187 pounds, Jayden Reed is a bit smaller than what the Packers typically target at the receiver position. However, as VP of Player Personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan told us following the draft, with Reed’s speed and strength, he is someone who can win consistently both lined up inside and out. Although not an official time, Sullivan added that during the pre-draft process, the Packers clocked Reed at an impressive 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Reed also brings versatility to this offense. Along with lining up in the slot and on the boundary, Sullivan mentioned that he could be utilized on jet sweeps, and he also has both kick and punt return experience from his time at Michigan State. During offseason programs, as I already mentioned, Reed took quite a few snaps with the starters, most of which came lined up in the slot. As Green Bay gets through the install portion of the playbook, we will see Reed, and others, moved around more, but his early presence inside shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Watson and Doubs are both more so boundary targets.
Reed will be a big part of the offense this season, but it’s worth pointing out the highs and lows that can come with a rookie receiver taking on a large role right away. Look no further than the rookie seasons Watson and Doubs experienced.
The 2023 season won’t be a red-shirt year for Dontayvion Wicks by any means, but I also expect it to be more developmental than him contributing in a significant way. For one, the Packers likely won’t play with a lot of five wide receiver sets, and once taking into account the four receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, along with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon at running back, and Josiah Deguara, Tucker Kraft, and Luke Musgrave at tight end, Wicks is the 10th option in the passing game.
Wicks’ was one of the better downfield targets in college football during the 2021 season. His release package, which allows him to create separation right away at the line of scrimmage, gives him the ability to run a wide variety of routes and to win in all parts of the field. As his role grows throughout his career, he is a player who could be tasked with a number of route-running responsibilities in the offense.
For the most part, OTAs and minicamp were quiet for Wicks, but this is in part due to him missing a few practices. What’s evident, however, is that he is a very smooth route runner.
I would consider the first five receivers that I’ve gone through to be locks to make the roster, but I wouldn’t quite put Grant DuBose in that category–although I would call him the favorite for that sixth wide receiver role. Whether it be rookie minicamp, OTAs, or mandatory minicamp, DuBose is yet to step on the practice field. As LaFleur said, naturally, these missed practice reps can cause a young player to fall behind.
DuBose was a highly productive and targeted pass catcher at Charlotte, but if he does make the 53-man roster, he is likely to play a very small role to nonexistent role on offense, given where he stands in this offense. It’s going to be important that DuBose get off to a good start during training camp.
I do believe there is a path for Bo Melton to make the roster, as he can carve out a specific role as the motion/gadget man with his 4.34 speed. With Love at quarterback, I do expect there to be more motion utilized and more opportunities for a gadget-like player. As we know, motion is a key element of the LaFleur offense that can cause the defense to make last-second adjustments, create some confusion, and a split-second of hesitation, which can open up running and passing lanes.
The Packers have tried to fill this role previously with Tyler Ervin or Tavon Austin but have never quite found that long-term solution. Both Watson and Reed could fill this motion role at times, however, to best maximize their value, they should be running routes. In terms of getting the most out of a roster spot, one could argue that having Melton in this role is more valuable as a sixth receiver than someone who is on the roster for development purposes.
During the offseason programs, I didn’t see Melton used in this capacity, but again, with the Packers implementing the fundamentals of the offense, that’s not surprising either. If he is going to be featured in that motion/gadget role, we will see that begin to take place during training camp.
There is always one undrafted player who gets onto everyone’s radar, and for the Packers this offseason, that was Malik Heath from Ole Miss. There seemingly wasn’t a practice that went by where Heath didn’t make at least one play. This included one practice where Heath made a catch down the sidelines with multiple defenders around him. Another where he had back-to-back catches during a two-minute drill, and one with Rasul Douglas in coverage on a crosser.
For what it’s worth, by the end of minicamp when the team was doing 7-on-7 drills, Heath was in the group of offensive players that did feature the starters. It’s been a great start for Heath, but if he is going to truly make a push for a roster spot, he will have to carry this momentum into training camp when the pads come on.
Jeff Cotton is the longest-tenured receiver on this roster as a 2020 undrafted rookie but has only one offensive snap during his playing career. During his final season at Idaho in 2019, Cotton caught 66% of his 133 targets at 12.9 yards per catch with seven touchdowns, averaging a very efficient 3.3 yards per route run. He has that bigger receiver frame the Packers covet and entered the NFL with experience as a run blocker.
Cotton made a few nice plays during two-minute drills, however, he has an uphill battle to making the final roster. Not only will he have to play extremely well, but as the oldest receiver on the team at 26 years old, the Packers probably will prefer to go with upside when determining who gets that final roster spot–if they keep six receivers.
Jadakis Bonds stands 6’4″ and weighs 200 pounds. He is a 2023 undrafted rookie out of FCS Hampton University and was signed by Green Bay in late May. In 2019, Bonds caught 70 passes for 943 yards. In 2021 (there was no 2020 season at the FCS level due to COVID), he caught 54 passes for 773 yards, and then most recently, Bonds averaged a whopping 17.4 yards per catch on 49 receptions in 2022. He primarily lined up on the boundary, was a target in all areas of the field, and graded out well as a run-blocker from PFF.
Duece Watts was signed right after the 2023 draft as an undrafted rookie from Tulane. He was a steady presence in the Tulane offense, totaling between 47 and 56 targets from 2020 to 2022. For his career, Watts hauled in 80 of his 155 targets at 16.0 yards per catch with 16 touchdowns. He often lined up on the boundary and was a downfield target during this most recent season, with over one-third of his passes coming more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. In 2020 and 2021, Watts made an impact at all three levels of the field.
Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, and Grant DuBose
I would consider the first five receivers listed as locks. The big question right now is who is going to be the sixth wide receiver? As I’ve already laid out, I do think Malik Heath and Bo Melton could push for that roster spot, but for the time being, until I see them perform with the pads on, I’ll give DuBose the benefit of the doubt, in large part because he is a draft pick, and under Brian Gutekunst and LaFleur, they’ve favored their own draft picks when it comes down to those final few roster spots.
In terms of numbers, I don’t think that keeping seven wide receivers is in play, but I wouldn’t rule out keeping five. With the heavy usage of 11 and 12 personnel, along with how frequently the running backs and tight ends are used in the passing game, the sixth receiver is likely to see little to even no playing time on offense. Meaning that roster spot could be utilized at a different position where there can be a greater impact.