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Young receivers have fit right in with Packers' offense

Green Bay hopes to have entire receiving corps back after the bye

WRs Allen Lazard & Christian Watson
WRs Allen Lazard & Christian Watson

GREEN BAY – As Christian Watson made his way to the postgame podium after another stellar showing, Allen Lazard couldn't help but smile as a chorus of media circled his locker inside Soldier Field's visiting locker room to ask the Packers' veteran receiver about the emerging young wideout.

The scene was in stark contrast to a month earlier when Lazard had been peppered with questions about whether Green Bay needed to acquire another receiver prior to the NFL trading deadline to help quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense.

However, Watson's meteoric rise has recently quashed those sentiments. In the Packers' 28-19 win over the Bears, Watson's 46-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter capped a four-game stretch in which Watson registered 362 total yards with eight TDs.

"You guys were asking me if we needed to do a trade a few weeks ago just because of the results and everything," said Lazard after the Bears game. "And I stood the ground on the guys in our room. Because I knew the talent that we have. Obviously when we have '12' out there, anything is a possibility. It's just great seeing the development of Christian and the confidence he's had."

The Packers went into the season feeling good about both the experience and potential of their receiving corps, even after trading Davante Adams to Las Vegas. Lazard and Randall Cobb were back, Sammy Watkins was signed, and General Manager Brian Gutekunst invested three draft picks in the position.

After moving up in the second round to take Watson at No. 34, the Packers drafted Nevada's Romeo Doubs in the fourth round and Nebraska's Samori Toure in the seventh. Green Bay hoped to ride its veterans early in the season but both Watkins (hamstring) and Cobb (ankle) landed on injured reserve. Lazard also missed two games with ankle and shoulder injuries.

That threw all three rookie receivers into the fire. With Watson dealing with his own hamstring injury, Doubs was the first to break onto the scene. The 22-year-old was even named the NFL Rookie of Week 3 after catching three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay's 14-12 win over Tampa Bay earlier this season.

When Watson returned to health, however, Green Bay lost Doubs to an ankle injury in Detroit. The Packers thought they might have both rookies available in Chicago, but Doubs wound up missing his fourth straight game. Green Bay still has yet to have Lazard, Cobb, Watkins, Watson and Doubs all active in the same game this season.

"The more weapons you have the better you feel and the more you get other people involved," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "I feel really good about where our receiving corps is and where it's progressing to. It will be nice to have everybody available."

Watson has quickly picked up where Doubs left off, though. Since returning against Dallas in Week 10, the 23-year-old rookie has amassed his eight TDs in the last four games on just 17 touches.

Despite playing just 330 offensive snaps, Watson entered the bye week tied for fifth in the NFL with seven TD receptions. Given his injuries and the complex nature of the offense, Watson's steady approach to adversity has earned him the respect of his peers.

"You gotta give that kid a lot of credit because obviously the way the season started," Gutekunst said. "Just falling behind because of different injuries, I think a lot of guys, that would've been it, right? 'Hey, let's get to the next season and see how it goes.'

"But I give him a lot of credit for not losing faith and not losing his work ethic because when the opportunities presented themselves, obviously he's made the most of them. I think the thing I'm most proud about with Christian right now is he really has a desire to be great and he's not walking around here like he's arrived in any way."

The Packers are hopeful to get Doubs back for the final stretch, which would reunite a 2022 receiver class that earlier this year became the first trio of Packers rookies to catch TD passes in the same non-strike season since Max McGee, Veryl Switzer and Joe Johnson in 1954.

With three more receiving TDs, Watson would surpass McGee for the second-most TD receptions by a rookie in team history. To date, only Packers Hall of Famer Billy Howton has ever reached double digits (13, 1952).

While this year hasn't gone exactly as the Packers expected in terms of wins and losses, the investment they made into their receiver room is one the organization believes will yield positive returns for years to come. For the outside consternation early on, Watson appears to have all the makings of another second-round strike.

"With Christian, he's not been perfect, but he had some opportunities," Gutekunst said. "They didn't go his way, but he just kept moving forward, kept fighting forward. I think that's kind of a great lesson for all our players.

"It's never going to be perfect. You're going to have some mistakes but if you keep moving forward and keep grinding, when the opportunities do start to fall your way, again, you gotta be ready for it."

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