Today, we’re looking at past rookie wide receivers for the Green Bay Packers, starting with the number 442. That is the average receiving yards for four prominent Packers receivers in their rookie seasons under quarterback Aaron Rodgers. At the very least, this should provide some context toward what to expect from Christian Watson next season.
There have been four wide receivers to have significant roles in their rookie seasons since Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008. For clarity purposes, we are talking about Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Each situation was unique, but all four totaled at least 30 targets in their first season when a distinguished No. 1 was already on the roster.
Nelson got the ball rolling in Rodgers’ first season as the third option behind Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Nelson, of course, went on to have a stellar career that ended with 613 career receptions, 8,587 yards, and 72 touchdowns, but even he did not become the leading receiver until his fourth season. He and Watson have the most similar draft value, as Nelson was drafted with the 36th overall pick and Watson only two spots ahead.
Next came Cobb, another second-round pick by Green Bay in 2011. Cobb immediately turned heads as a return man, but his impact at receiver didn’t take off until Year 2. His yardage jumped from 375 to 954, while his touchdown total increased by seven. Cobb was the Packers leading receiver during his sophomore season, a notable feat that hasn’t happened since.
With Nelson approaching 30 and Cobb coming off a broken fibula, the Packers used another second-round pick in 2014 to add insurance to their receiver group. Boy, are they glad they did as Adams became arguably the best wideout in franchise history. Drops plagued Adams’ first two seasons, leaving many to wonder if the team made a mistake. However, Adams flashed serious potential in Year 3, finishing just a few yards shy of 1,000. Like Nelson, Adams did not become the first option until his fourth season after Rodgers missed a large part of the year with a broken collarbone. Adams was the lone receiver to step up with Brett Hundley under center back in 2017, and he never looked back. He and Rodgers went on to form one of the deadliest connections in all of football, and now Adams is a household name and a perennial All-Pro getting over $141 million from the Las Vegas Raiders.
Valdes-Scantling is not the most accomplished guy in the group, but he exceeded all expectations for a fifth-round pick in 2018. Tall, lanky, and not short on speed, Valdes-Scantling had more receiving yards as a rookie than all three of the previously mentioned. Unfortunately, Valdes-Scantling never made the jump to a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but his speed made him a true game-changer within the offense. His 17.5 yards per catch ranks 6th in team history among players with at least 100 career receptions. Now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, things may have turned out different for Valdes-Scantling had he not gotten hurt after a breakout 2020 season.
Now that we have more context, we can talk a little bit more about the expectations surrounding Watson’s rookie season. We have already mentioned how no two situations are the same. Nelson, Cobb, Adams, and Valdes-Scantling entered the league when the Packers had a top receiver already established. Currently, they don’t have a clear-cut No. 1, which changes things a bit for Watson.
Allen Lazard could be that guy, given his experience with Rodgers. His production has remained steady over the last three years, but perhaps he can make the fourth-year jump like Nelson did. It will obviously be harder for Lazard, who did not get drafted and is not the athlete Nelson.
There is also Cobb, who re-entered the equation last season upon Rodgers’ request. Age is catching up to Cobb, and injuries have plagued most of his career. It would be a total shock for him to suddenly regain his footing and become a No. 1 option at age 31.
We also can’t completely rule out Sammy Watkins. Watkins signed a one-year deal this offseason following an unsuccessful season with the Baltimore Ravens. Matt LaFleur anticipates Watkins being a big part of the offense next season, but that doesn’t mean Watkins can regain his 2015 form. Injuries have also not been kind to Watkins, who hasn’t played a full slate of games since his rookie year.
This cracks the door open just a tad for Watson to be the guy in 2022. After all, he is the highest-drafted receiver the team has had in two decades, and there is no clear-cut guy ahead of him. However, recent history still shows it is doubtful for him to bursts onto the scene as a rookie to become Rodgers’ favorite target. Remember, 442 is the first-year average for four notable Packers receivers, three of which made Pro Bowls, with one on track to be a Hall of Famer. 442 yards is not WR1 material but is a strong baseline for Watson.
The most likely path for Watson is one that is comparable to Cobb. Watson also has a ton of upside as a return man, which is how he could make the biggest impact in year one before stepping into a larger role at receiver in Year 2.