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Green Bay Packers rookie Christian Watson could return next week, evaluating 2022 impact

The Green Bay Packers took a big swing on wide receiver Christian Watson in the 2022 NFL Draft, betting on the North Dakota State standout to become a go-to weapon for Aaron Rodgers. It’s proven to be a challenging first few months for the rookie.

Green Bay paid a steep price to land Watson with the 34th overall pick. It traded both of its second-round picks – 53rd and 59th overall – to take a chance on the wideout who flashed tantalizing potential in the pre-draft process.

Following the departure of Davante Adams, the Packers needed to thrust their young wide receivers into prominent roles at practice. While fellow rookie Romeo Doubs is thriving under intense pressure, it’s been a far more challenging summer for Watson.

The 6-foot-4 wideout struggled out of the gate in early practice sessions. While he showcased his enticing athleticism at times, observers notably recognized his unrefined route-running and his issues with drops. It was the same issue that plagued him in college with Pro Football Focus discovering that he had 16 drops on 120 catchable targets in his career.

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Unfortunately, things got even worse for him after the early struggles. Watson had to undergo knee surgery to address a lingering issue and it landed him on the Physically Unable to Perform list at the start of training camp.

Fortunately, per Dan Graziano of ESPN, the Packers are hopeful that Watson will be cleared to practice within the next week. Even if he doesn’t return immediately, it’s a positive sign that one of Green Bay’s most important rookies is not going to miss significant time.

When Watson returns to the field, though, there should be skepticism regarding his impact this season.

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Setting expectations for Christian Watson in 2022

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Samantha Madar / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

Green Bay bet on Watson’s upside when it selected him with the 34th overall pick. Despite his lack of dominance at the FCS level and notable concerns with his hands and route-running, the Packers chose him over Wan’Dale Robinson, John Metchie III, George Pickens and Skyy Moore.

There’s a strong case to be made that it will not work out for them immediately. Watson is going to require significant time to develop as he is much more of an athlete than a natural wide receiver at this early stage of his career.

Watson is also losing valuable time in training camp right now. Doubs is the early standout, receiving praise from Rodgers, head coach Matt LaFleur and reporters covering practices. Meanwhile, Allen Lazard remains the favorite to be Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver.

By losing out on those first-team reps, Watson misses additional time to earn the trust of his quarterback. Considering how much emphasis Rodgers places on having a rapport with his wide receivers and depends on them being in the right spot by running crisp routes, this puts Watson behind his competition on the depth chart.

Fans should set their expectations relatively low for Watson in 2022. At best, he’ll likely enter Week 1 as the No. 4 receiver behind Lazard, Doubs and Randall Cobb. Once Robert Tonyan is cleared to return from his torn ACL, Watson will also likely find himself behind the standout tight end and Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones for targets.

While it could be a very quiet season for the Packers’ second-round pick, it’s always worth keeping in mind that Adams totaled just 929 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first 29 games.

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