GREEN BAY – Sammy Watkins put it bluntly Wednesday.
"I told the coaches, 'My back is against the wall,'" the Packers' veteran addition at receiver said following minicamp practice. "My career hasn't been what I projected it to be."
In the same breath, he was equally straightforward about how valuable – borderline career-changing – this Green Bay opportunity in front of him might be, if he can stay healthy.
"That's been the knock on my career – to stay on the field," he said. "When I'm on the field, I can ball, I can catch balls, I can score and I'm a dominant player. But the key is staying on the field."
That remains the caveat with Watkins as he looks to revive (his word) his career with the Packers in 2022. Green Bay signed the former No. 4 overall draft pick from 2014 – the same year the Packers selected Davante Adams in the second round – in the aftermath of Adams' offseason trade to Las Vegas.
Watkins' career began in Buffalo on the expected trajectory, as he caught 125 passes for 2,029 yards and 15 TDs over his first two seasons. But then came the injuries.
Over the past six years (one in Buffalo, one with the Rams, three in Kansas City, and last season in Baltimore), Watkins missed more than two dozen games and parts of several others. He appeared in more than 10 games in a season just three times. His 52 catches for 673 yards in helping the Chiefs to a Super Bowl title in 2019 are his season bests since those first two years with the Bills.
Last season was just the latest example of promise followed by frustration. In 2021 with the Ravens, he posted 18 catches for 292 yards over the season's first five games before health issues once again limited his playing time and production. He caught just nine passes for 102 yards the rest of the way.
As his disappointing eighth year in the NFL wrapped up last winter, Watkins wondered if he'd get another chance. He was mostly "sitting on the couch" and adding a few unwanted pounds when he decided to get back to working out. Shortly thereafter, the Packers called.
Extremely grateful, he feels Green Bay for several reasons is the best fit he could ask for.
The Packers are a Super Bowl contender with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers whose receiving corps is going through a transition. Watkins' one season with the Rams in 2017 came with Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator, and he caught eight TD passes. Plus his position coach will once again be Jason Vrable, with whom he worked in those early years in Buffalo.
"It's really just bringing me back to the kid I was back in Buffalo and playing hard, playing physical and loving the game," Watkins said. "I think that's what this year's about."
There's certainly plenty of excitement about him on Green Bay's end.
He's an accomplished veteran who's made the transition to new teams before, and he's produced under the brightest lights of the playoffs. Over five postseason games with Kansas City in 2018-19, he caught 24 passes for 464 yards and a TD. He also signed with the Packers for just one year but would like to play a lot longer.
That entire package and the potential benefits for the Packers aren't lost on Rodgers, who surprised Watkins with a FaceTime call when the contract was getting worked out.
"I think it's important to get guys who have a lot to play for, and I think Sammy has the opportunity to continue and travel down a new path in his career," Rodgers said. "There's definitely going to be opportunities for him to make plays for us in this offense.
"I love the disposition, I really enjoy the person, and I think he has everything right in front of him to have as productive a year as he wants to."
LaFleur is similarly enthusiastic.
"I don't think his game has fallen off at all since we were together in 2017," he said. "A little bit has been maybe a lack of opportunity, but he's going to be a big part of our offense."
That all sounds great to Watkins, who knows it's on him to take advantage of a situation he calls one of the best he's encountered in his career.
Personally, he feels rejuvenated. Next is for his career to feel the same way.
"To get that call definitely changed my whole outlook on coming into this season and how I want to play, and I just can't wait to get started," he said.
"I'm not done yet. I feel like I got a lot more in my tank, a lot more football to be played at the highest level, and hopefully I can be consistent and stay on the field."
Due to rain, the Green Bay Packers held their second practice of minicamp inside the Don Hutson Center on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.