The Green Bay Packers have found some rhythm on offense, and rookie wide receiver Christian Watson has been a big reason for that.
The Packers came away with a 28-19 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, moving the team to 5-8 while still technically keeping them in the playoff hunt. Watson had another big game, catching three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown while also adding a 46-yard rushing touchdown.
Green Bay’s second-round pick has now racked up eight total touchdowns over the last four weeks. His drop on what would have been a touchdown on his first NFL snap is a thing of the past, and now the 23-year-old is making a late push for a Pro Bowl or Rookie of the Year selection.
While Watson has earned a reputation as a speed threat, the film shows some of the finer details of his game, including some things he could still work on to become a more complete player.
Watson was drafted to be a big-bodied speed threat, but also because of his willingness as a blocker. head coach Matt LaFleur has a clear type when it comes to receivers in his offense, and Watson fit that mold at 6’5” and 207 pounds along with the effort he showed as a blocker at North Dakota State.
The Packers seem much more comfortable getting Watson involved as a blocker, and he showed he can be an asset in that role against the Bears.
Christian Watson getting involved way more in the offense, including as a blocker.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
Saw some of this at NDSU. He has the size and willingness to be an effective blocker. pic.twitter.com/lxHEYvaEkK
There’s a very real chance that receiver Allen Lazard doesn’t return in 2023, so Watson could take on a larger role as a blocking receiver next year.
Rookies aren’t perfect, and Watson is still getting his feet under him and making some miscues. Something that popped up on Sunday and in previous weeks is Watson not finishing his routes at full speed if he fights through contact, thinking the ball won’t come his way. This showed up again on Sunday, preventing Watson from getting close to a target coming his way.
A bad habit Watson needs to work on is finishing plays.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
Gotta keep running these routes through contact. Never know when the ball is going your way. pic.twitter.com/Rvy665Pvc7
This is an easily correctible mistake, however, and an example of the effort required at the NFL level that Watson is still adjusting to.
At the same time, there are signs of development with Watson. Because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ playmaking ability in off-script plays, Packers wide receivers have to get acclimated to what the veteran QB is looking for and know how to break off of their routes to get open. On Watson’s first touchdown of the game, he showed a good feel for how to do exactly that, breaking off his route while using his big frame to get positioning on the safety for the score.
Being able to adjust off-script is a huge part of playing WR with Rodgers.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
Great job here by Watson recognizing the ball isn't out yet and getting in position to make a play. pic.twitter.com/NZzNS5gFMS
Even with his size-speed combo, Watson will need to find ways to win with his route running, which will allow him to create more separation. While he doesn’t have the footwork and lateral movement skills that Davante Adams possesses, Watson is clearly making an effort to become a better route runner.
This route on Sunday against the Bears might have been one of his best all season. After initially setting up his release outside, Watson was able to move back inside of the cornerback, then use his speed and size to fly upfield and cut back inside to be wide open in the middle of the field.
Watson feigns outside release, attacks inside, gets a step on the DB and then breaks inside to get open over the middle of the field. pic.twitter.com/TbM4l9PKAp— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
Speed is still Watson’s calling card. His 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds turned plenty of heads at the NFL Scouting Combine given his size, and on the field, he looks even faster with the capability of turning any play into a touchdown.
Teams that play press-man coverage against Watson have to be able to effectively jam him at the line of scrimmage. When Watson gets a free release against it, he has no problem getting past defenders, and when hit in stride, he can generate explosive plays with regularity.
Play press man against Christian Watson at your own risk.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
If this ball leads Watson a tick more this is probably a TD. Still able to draw PI. pic.twitter.com/8uj8c1EYcM
LaFleur and the Packers coaching staff also did a great job of setting Watson up for success on his jet sweep. The Bears showed little concern for Watson’s pre-snap jet motion throughout the game, with Chicago’s linebackers aggressively playing the running back, leaving just one defensive back trailing Watson and time in pre-snap motion.
When the Packers realized this, they called an actual jet sweep to Watson, and thanks to a great block by Sammy Watkins on the DB following him in motion, the rookie was able to spring free for a 46-yard score.
Packers set this one up all game.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 5, 2022
Bears defense wasn't committing at all to pre-snap motion from Watson except for a DB following him across the formation in man coverage.
Turns out you have to respect Watson in motion. pic.twitter.com/qFcoQbI0Eq
It’s still not perfect, and at some point, Watson will face some adversity like he has with his drops in previous weeks. However, the playmaking ability that Watson brings has added a new dimension to Green Bay’s offense and could make them a dangerous threat again in 2023.