The Green Bay Packers are still figuring things out with their new receiving corps just two games into the 2022 season, but Aaron Rodgers is already starting to see how the stars could align for Sammy Watkins’ NFL future.
Watkins had a strong performance for the Packers in their home opener against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, catching three of his four targets for 93 yards with a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped seal their 27-10 victory over their NFC North rivals. The 29-year-old has operated as a bit of a crutch for Rodgers as the Packers have begun to bring along their inexperienced group of receivers, and he heads into Week 3 as the their leader in receiving yards (111) and tied for their most receptions (six).
A leading role wasn’t guaranteed for Watkins when he joined the Packers in mid-April in the aftermath of All-Pro Davante Adams getting traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. At the time, the Packers seemed likely to target receivers in the 2022 NFL draft — they drafted three — and had a Rodgers-endorsed new candidate for WR1 in veteran Allen Lazard.
With so much uncertainty, the four-time MVP quarterback said he didn’t really have any expectations for Watkins coming in, but the veteran receiver made an early impression on Rodgers in training camp and quickly showed that he was a “fantastic teammate” who was ready to take advantage of the “special” opportunity he had in Green Bay.
“I knew of Sammy and I watched him a little bit, but I didn’t have a real familiarity with him, so I didn’t have any expectations or projections when he came in,” Rodgers told reporters on September 21. “He’s just come in and been a fantastic teammate and a great guy and a really deep thinker and an interesting guy and interests outside of football and very well-spoken and curious, just a fantastic guy. I’ve loved our conversations together. He loves ball, he cares about it. He realizes how special this opportunity is for him and we want him to have success and for this to be a trampoline to the second half of his career.”
Watkins Could ‘Trampoline’ Into Career Resurgence
Watkins has been something of a wild card throughout his first eight NFL seasons. The Buffalo Bills selected him at No. 4 overall in the 2014 NFL draft with enormous expectations for him and only saw those expectations grow after he caught 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season. Watkins followed up with his first 1,000-yard season and a career-high nine touchdowns in 2015 despite missing three games, but things began to taper off significantly following his second year.
Watkins missed half of his third season with the Bills and finished with fewer than 30 receptions despite maintaining a yards-per-reception average above 15 yards. He was then traded — along with a 2018 sixth-round pick — to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines Jr. and a 2018 second-rounder that would later be used in a package to trade up for current starting quarterback Josh Allen.
Watkins would go on to have bursts of good play for the Rams in 2017, a highlight being his 106-yard, two-touchdown performance against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, but he never ascended back to the level he played at in his first two seasons with the Bills. His best season since leaving Buffalo came in his second of three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 when he caught 52 passes for 673 yards and three touchdowns. He also played a supporting role in Baltimore in 2021.
Watkins is pushing 30 years old, but he could still parlay a good 2022 season with Green Bay into several more years of catching passes in the NFL if he can hold strong and make an impression for a team with playoff aspirations. There’s no telling whether Watkins will remain their leading receiver for the entire season — especially as their rookies develop later into the year — but the opportunity is there for him.
Watkins’ Status Uncertain for Week 3 vs. Buccaneers
If there’s one thing that could force the Packers to pump the brakes on Watkins in 2022, it would be his health. The former No. 4 overall draft pick has missed a combined 27 games and split his time between four different teams over his first eight seasons, largely due to his trouble with injuries. Now, he could potentially be in line to miss Game No. 28 — his first with the Packers — this week as he nurses a hamstring injury.
Watkins was held out of Thursday’s unpadded practice for the Packers after he was added to the injury report and limited in Wednesday’s first session. He is hardly alone as rookie Christian Watson (hamstring), Allen Lazard (ankle) and Randall Cobb (illness) have also missed similar time leading up to Week 3’s trip to face the Buccaneers, but his lengthy injury history makes it a bit more of a red flag moving into the weekend.
The Packers will provide more details on Watkins’ status when they publish their final injury report for Week 3 at about 5 p.m. ET on Friday, September 23. Chances are he will be listed as questionable and be given up until game time to get cleared of his injury, but the Packers have not provided specifics on his hamstring injury, so it remains unclear exactly how much of an issue it is expected to cause.