Packers WR Christian Watson wants to build on 'perfect' finish

Second-year wideout had 523 receiving yards, seven TDs in final eight games

WR Christian Watson

GREEN BAY – Christian Watson's rookie season was equal parts challenge and triumph.

High expectations hovered over the former North Dakota State receiver after the Packers traded up to draft Watson in the second round (34th overall) last year.

Seen as a pillar to help replace departing All-Pro Davante Adams, Watson missed a majority of his first training camp after having his knee scoped. Once that healed, a hamstring issue sidelined him for three of his first seven pro games.

By Week 10, Watson had amassed just 10 receptions for 88 yards and no receiving touchdowns. But the course of his rookie campaign changed drastically on Nov. 13.

The 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver blossomed during a 107-yard, three-TD performance in a 31-28 win over Dallas. Over his last eight games, Watson caught 31 passes for 523 yards and seven TDs, while adding a 46-yard score off a reverse in Chicago.

Suddenly, the storm subsided, and the rainbow appeared.

"I feel like it was just the perfect way to finish the season," Watson said. "There's going to be highs and there's going to be lows. You've just got to ride the momentum and keep it going and I feel those are things I did."

Watson's strong finish was highlighted by becoming the first Packers player to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month honors in nearly a decade after tallying 14 receptions for 289 yards and six TDs in four November appearances.

Green Bay rode the momentum that came with the young receiver's emergence. An offense that averaged just 17.4 points through its first nine games saw its scoring shoot up to 26.6 ppg during Watson's final flurry.

A Packers playoff push fell short after a 20-16 loss to Detroit in its regular-season finale, but the team was pleased with the progress Watson and fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs made over the course of their rookie campaigns.

The tandem combined for 1,036 offensive snaps in 2022, which will be valuable experience for an offense that will transition from four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love under center in 2023.

"Some buildings, you draft a guy maybe in the second round, there might be three vets, four vets in front of them," receivers coach Jason Vrable said. "But they've been through the fire. I think they've learned from it. They've adapted. They're competitive and they've bought into the tradition of the room. You could kind of see it throughout the year, their growth."

Ask Watson about his goals for 2023, everything starts with taking care of his body. While recalibrating for Year 2, Watson centered his training on mitigating the soft-tissue injuries that hampered him early in his rookie campaign.

Watson appeared to hit the target during the nine-week offseason program. A full participant throughout the spring, Watson looked physically stronger than he did as a rookie while still showcasing his world-class speed.

Those attributes aligned during the first day of minicamp when Watson and Love connected on one of the best plays of the entire offseason program, with Watson catching a laser down the sideline from Love in a 7-on-7 period.

Love placed the ball perfectly over the coverage of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander to hit Watson in stride for what would've easily been a touchdown.

"That was kind of our first time running that concept," Love said. "It's just playing. You just put the ball up there and let him run and go get it. … All those reps tie into building that chemistry and knowing where he's going to be and knowing where I can put the ball."

Despite playing in just 14 games, the 24-year-old Watson is technically the Packers' most experienced receiver after Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb both followed Rodgers to New York.

Neither Watson nor Vrable see inexperience being an issue for the receiving corps. That confidence starts with a burgeoning No. 1 wideout who saw both sides of the NFL pendulum as a rookie.

Through that, Watson learned how to handle both early adversity and rapid success. As the Packers prepare for a tectonic shift at QB, Watson wants to be a central part of a promising future in Green Bay while showing his strong finish was just a prelude of what's to come.

"For me, I like to be thrown in the fire," Watson said. "I think I was last year, and I think that only made me better. I'm looking forward to going out there and showing who I am."

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