GREEN BAY – The 2022 season was a year of transition for the Packers' receiver room, as three hungry rookies were called upon early to help fill the void left by Davante Adams' offseason trade to Las Vegas.
Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Toure each shined in their own way, combining for 88 receptions for 1,118 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. They also became the first trio of Green Bay rookies to each catch a touchdown in the same non-strike season since 1954.
The Packers expected to bring along Watson, Doubs and Toure slowly but injuries to veterans Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins pushed the rookies into the lineup straightaway. They proved to be up for the challenge.
"It's tough coming in and Davante Adams is leaving a huge hole and these guys are all wanting to fill it some way or another," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week. "I think they came to work every day, they were really good teammates and really good listeners, not only to the coaches but to the Randall Cobbs and the Allen Lazards. I just thought they fit into our team really well."
Watson faced the most pressure after the Packers paired the second-round pick they gained in the Adams trade with their own second-rounder to move up to take the former North Dakota State standout at No. 34, the highest Green Bay has drafted a receiver in 20 years.
Watson's rookie season got off to a problematic start, as he underwent a knee procedure after the offseason program that sidelined him for most of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver made it back for the regular-season opener in Minnesota but had a highly visible gaffe when he dropped a would-be 75-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers on his first NFL snap.
Shortly thereafter, Watson suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for three games and a concussion in Buffalo that spurred questions about whether the Packers might shut him down for the season.
Instead, Watson bounced back with a stellar second half. His three-touchdown performance in a 31-28 overtime win over Dallas on Nov. 13 helped the Packers snap a five-game losing streak and marked a turning point in his season.
Watson won NFL Rookie of the Month honors for November, becoming the first Packers player in seven years to earn that distinction. He finished his rookie season as just the third player in franchise history to post seven-plus receiving TDs and multiple rushing TDs in a season, joining Hall of Famers Don Hutson (1941) and Johnny Blood (1931).
"(I'm) really proud of Christian because a lot of times with all the things that he went through, that rookie season would've really just kind of gone away," Gutekunst said. "For him to stay in the fight and then be able to produce like he did down the stretch, really a credit to the kid. He's really bright, he's really determined. The spotlight is obviously not too big for him."
Early on, Doubs did a lot of heavy lifting for the rookie class. The fourth-round pick out of Nevada seemingly made a play during each practice of training camp and took home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Week honors after catching three passes for 73 yards and a TD in Green Bay's 14-12 road win over Tampa Bay in Week 3.
Doubs missed four games after a scary ankle injury against Detroit in November but returned for the Packers' late-season push for the playoffs. Additionally, Toure proved to be an accountable reserve who saw action in the final 11 games after being a healthy scratch during the first 1½ months of the season.
All three factor significantly into the Packers' future plans at receiver, though Gutekunst told reporters he'd still like to have a veteran in that room next season. At the moment, Watson's 14 career NFL games are the most of any receiver on the offseason roster.
"All those guys are going into their second year. I'd love to have a veteran presence," Gutekunst said. "Just another guy in the room that those guys can bounce things off of and bring to the table.
"Whether that will happen or not, we'll see, but as excited as I am about those young guys, having a guy with the kind of experience that has seen things, none of those guys got to play in a playoff game, right? It'd be nice to have a guy that can continue to help move those guys along as well as a veteran presence out there. I think that's important."
It's possible Lazard and/or Cobb could be back. When asked specifically about Lazard, Gutekunst wouldn't rule out the fifth-year veteran's return. Green Bay could face some competition for Lazard's services, though, as he's expected to be one of the top receivers on the open market after leading the Packers with 60 catches for 788 yards and six TDs.
Regardless of how everything shakes out on the free-agent front, Gutekunst sees the arrow pointing up at receiver thanks in part to the instant impact of the 2022 rookie class.
"I think that's the biggest thing with these young players is are they willing to take the corrections and criticism and then work and continue to work, and they did that," Gutekunst said. "Coach (Jason) Vrable did a really nice job with the room because it was in transition, obviously, when you lose the guy that leads that room. I think those guys did a really nice job. I'm excited to see how they grow this year."