Sunday, October 2, 2022

Aaron Rodgers sends a powerful message on Sammy Watkins’ future

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The Green Bay Packers are just figuring things out with their new receiving corps just two games into the 2022 season, but Aaron Rodgers is already beginning to see how the stars could line up for Sammy Watkins’ NFL future.

Watkins put on a strong performance for the Packers in their home opener against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, hitting three of his four goals for 93 yards with a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped in their 27-10 win over their NFC North to seal rivals. The 29-year-old has been a crutch of sorts for Rodgers as the Packers have started bringing their inexperienced group of receivers with them, and he goes into Week 3 as their leader in receiving yards (111) and with a tie for them most receptions (six).

A leading role was not guaranteed for Watkins when he joined the Packers in mid-April after All-Pro Davante Adams’ move to the Las Vegas Raiders. At the time, the Packers seemed likely to be targeting receivers in the 2022 NFL draft — they drafted three — and had a Rodgers-backed new candidate for WR1 in veteran Allen Lazard.

With so much uncertainty, the four-time MVP quarterback said he didn’t really expect Watkins to come in, but the veteran receiver made an early impression on Rodgers in training camp and was quick to show he was a “fantastic teammate and was ready to take the” special” opportunity he had in Green Bay.

“I knew about Sammy and I watched him a bit, but I didn’t really have any familiarity with him, so I didn’t have any expectations or predictions when he came in,” Rodgers told reporters Sept. 21. “He’s that. I just walked in and was a fantastic teammate and a great guy and a really deep thinker and an interesting guy with interests outside of football and very articulate and curious just a fantastic guy. I loved our conversations together. He loves ball, he cares. He recognizes how special this opportunity is for him and we want him to succeed and that this is a springboard for the second half of his career.”

Watkins was something of a wild card in his first eight NFL seasons. The Buffalo Bills drafted him fourth overall in the 2014 NFL Draft with great 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 that up with his first 1,000-yard season and a career-high nine touchdowns in 2015 despite missing three games, but after his sophomore year things started to taper off significantly.

Watkins missed half of his third season with the Bills, finishing with fewer than 30 receptions, although he maintained a yards-per-reception average of over 15 yards. He was then traded — along with a 2018 sixth-round pick — to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback EJ Gaines Jr. and a 2018 second-rounder who would later be used in a package to trade for current quarterback Josh Allen .

Watkins continued to have good plays for the Rams in 2017, a highlight being his performance of 106 yards and two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, but he never got back to the level he played at in his first two seasons with the bills His best season since leaving Buffalo was 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 turns 30, but he could still add a good 2022 season with Green Bay to several more years of catching passes in the NFL if he can stay strong and impress for a team with playoff ambitions. There’s no telling if Watkins will remain their lead receiver for the entire season — especially if their rookies develop later in the year — but the opportunity is there for him.

If there’s one thing that could compel the Packers to put the brakes on Watkins in 2022, it would be his health. The former No. 4 draft pick has missed a total of 27 games and split his time between four different teams over the first eight seasons, largely due to his injury woes. Now he could potentially miss Game #28 – his first with the Packers – this week as he’s nursing a hamstring injury.

Watkins was ruled out of unpadded practice for the Packers on Thursday after being added to the injury report and restricted in Wednesday’s first session. He’s hardly alone as rookie Christian Watson (hamstring), Allen Lazard (ankle) and Randall Cobb (illness) also missed out on a similar time ahead of the Week 3 trip against the Buccaneers, but his long injury history makes it a bit more of an one red flag moving into the weekend.

The Packers will provide more details on Watkins’ status when they release their final Week 3 injury report around 5 p.m. ET on Friday, September 23. Chances are he’ll be listed as a questionable and given up until game time to be acquitted of his injury, but the Packers haven’t given details on his hamstring injury, so it remains unclear how big the problem is likely to be.

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