Christian Watson’s “welcome to the NFL moment” couldn’t have gone much worse.
The book on Watson prior to the draft was pretty simple: great athleticism, electrifying speed, suspect hands. We got to see all three on his very first NFL play as Watson blazed past Patrick Peterson and found himself all alone in the Minnesota secondary, then soon found himself in an even lonelier position as the man on the receiving end of a 70-yard stare from Aaron Rodgers.
It’s both a pun and an accurate description of what happened: Watson had the perfect chance to showcase his dazzling physical tools, but he dropped the ball.
But now that that’s out of the way, how bad was Watson’s debut, really? It’s true that he should very likely have added a 75-yard touchdown to his stat line, but how does finishing with two catches for 34 yards compare to other noteworthy high draft picks?
Pretty well, actually. Dating back to when they selected James Lofton sixth overall in 1978, the Packers have taken 11 receivers in the first or second round of the NFL Draft, and Watson’s 34-yard debut actually surpasses all but two of them.
Only Randall Cobb and Javon Walker (with 35 and 56 yards, respectively) put up better yardage totals than Watson; they’re also the only two on the list to score a touchdown in their debut. (Cobb actually scored twice, including his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.) And those are the guys that outperformed Watson. Things could have been a lot worse!
For instance, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Sterling Sharpe combined for a grand total of zero catches in their rookie debuts. Add Greg Jennings to that list and the total swells to one catch for five yards. Toss in Hall of Famer James Lofton and we’re up to two catches for 15 yards. Slow starts, in short, are the rule, not the exception.
But if the “didn’t produce in his first NFL game” crew sounds bad, it could, once again, be worse. For one reason or another, three of the Packers’ highly drafted receivers on our list didn’t even make it into the active lineup in Week 1. 2001 second-round pick Robert Ferguson is the worst of that lot; too raw to put onto the field, Ferguson was only active for a single game that season.
Watson’s Week 1 was by no means outstanding and his drop all but assured that his quarterback wouldn’t be looking his way for the rest of the afternoon. But if we’re counting his performance as a bad one, we should remember that a lot of highly drafted receivers in Packers history have been just as bad, if not worse — and that’s if they made it to the field at all.