Earlier this week, TDN’s own Kyle Crabbs wrote a piece breaking down the biggest rookie versus veteran battle in upcoming training camps for all 32 teams. When he got to the Green Bay Packers, Crabbs pointed to an interior defensive lineman battle between rookie Devonte Wyatt and veterans Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry as the team’s biggest matchup to be decided in training camp. He is incorrect.
The true must-watch battle between veterans and a rookie in Green Bay’s training camp will be in the wide receiver group. Rookie Christian Watson will be gunning to replace the elite Davante Adams as the Packers’ new No. 1 receiver after Adams headed to Las Vegas in a trade. Opposing Watson is the incumbent, four-year veteran Allen Lazard, who has played his entire pro career in Green Bay.
Filling the shoes of Adams would be a tall ask for any receiver in the NFL. In his eight-year career, he’s been a Pro Bowler in five of them, and for each the last two seasons, he was awarded first-team All-Pro honors. His chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers was no doubt a big reason for his success as a receiver in Green Bay. No other Packers pass-catcher got nearly as many looks each season as Adams did over the last five years. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that each of the previous five seasons were Pro Bowl years for Adams, and one of them—2020—even saw him lead the NFL in touchdown receptions with 18.
Lazard, the returning veteran contender to step up in Adams’ absence, is likely the favorite to take over that WR1 spot. He’s already built up four years’ worth of chemistry with Rodgers and was statistically his quarterback’s No. 2 option in 2021. Behind Adams’ 169 targets and 1,553 yards, Lazard was second among receivers with 60 targets and 513 yards.
Yes, that’s quite a steep drop-off in production, but Adams is Adams. Now that he’s off in the desert, Rodgers is going to have to throw to someone else. Lazard could be that new top target with his big frame and contested catch ability providing an easy mark to throw to. He already established himself as the No. 2 guy anyway, so it’s fair to assume he’ll be the guy to step up in Adams’ wake.
While free agent signee Sammy Watkins could also be considered a veteran part of this battle, he’s getting older and hasn’t played in Green Bay before this year. Second-year receiver Amari Rodgers could also see an increased role, but after a rookie year that featured just eight targets and far more use as a kick returner, it’s hard to tab him as having a better chance than Lazard among returning players at taking over that WR1 spot.
That’s where Watson, the rookie, comes in and makes things more interesting in the receivers room.
Watson’s speed, agility and body control brought him tons of success at North Dakota State throughout his collegiate career. He’s not the most refined route-runner in this rookie class, but his outstanding ball skills combined with his fantastic speed for his size—he ran a 4.36 40 as a 6-foot-5, 208-pound receiver—make him a run-after-catch menace and a consistent big-play threat.
Watson does not have any of the NFL experience that someone like Watkins has nor the chemistry with Rodgers that Lazard has. What he does have is a dynamic skill set and the versatility to handle the variety of situations the Packers will likely throw him into. In addition to the success Watson had playing on the outside in college, he also got some reps from the slot and extra touches out of the backfield.
With all of the talent and versatility Watson has, it’s no surprise that our own Ryan Fowler tabbed him as a guy who could break out in his rookie season. Green Bay is going to look to Watson early and often as the dynamic receiver their offense could really use.
So even though Lazard might be getting most of the attention for Adams’ replacement as the guy who’s stuck around for a few years, don’t count out Watson. The rookie has a skill set the Packers will be happy to have and he’ll have a good chance to win over Rodgers and his coaches to become the newest No. 1 receiver in Green Bay. Keep an eye out for this battle in training camp, as it could be one of this preseason’s most intriguing.
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