Before the Green Bay Packers stepped to the podium in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, six wide receivers had already come off the board. In the second round, the Packers took the next wideout when they called Christian Watson’s name. In the fourth round, the Packers picked another receiver, Romeo Doubs. Watson had all the raw tools that are needed for success in the NFL. Size: A legit 6’4” (at his pro day he was listed at 6’5”) 208 lbs. 32 1/8 inch arms and 10 ¼ inch hands. Speed: an unofficial 4.28 forty that turned into an official 4.36. Serve that up with an aggressive blocking attitude, and decent hands and you have a prospect with a Randy Moss physical profile. What Watson lacked; experience in a pass oriented pro system, consistent crisp pattern running and contested catches, were all part of the reason he was available in round two.
Watson was further hampered by missing off season, training camp and in season games with various injuries that limited his contributions until he broke out in game 10 against Dallas with a four catch (8 targets) 107 yard 3 touchdown performance. Watson ended 2022-2023 with 41 catches, 611 yards and 9 touchdowns. His longest reception was 61 yards. Watson showed potential equivalency to many of the wideouts drafted in the round ahead of him. Watson won NFL rookie of the week in week 10.
Romeo Doubs (6’1 7/8”/201 lbs.-4.50 forty) had a couple of shining moments in the middle of the season, then an injury derailed him for multiple games and he faded a bit when he returned as Watson emerged. His final stats (42 receptions, one more than Watson, 425 yards, and 3 touchdowns, with a longest catch of 26 yards) showed potential that bodes well for his future success. His biggest game was against the Buccaneers, where he had 8 catches for 73 yards and one touchdown. Doubs is slightly taller, heavier and faster than Davante Adams coming out of college. He showed the ability to make the leaping corner end zone contested catch, which could help the Packers red zone frustrations. While not a dominating freshman season, he showed enough skill to pass his rookie test, especially as a fourth round pick. Doubs won the NFL rookie of the week in week 3.
This article will review the stats of each wideout drafted in front of Watson and look at each team’s overall success.
(6’3”/213lbs. -no forty time): London played 90% of his snaps from the slot receiver position, totaling 72 receptions (117 targets) for 866 yards and 4 touchdowns. London averaged 12 yards a catch with a long of 40 yards. London had a single 100 yard game, his final game of the season, against the Buccaneers. (6 catches-120 yards) London impressed his coaches with his attention to detail, his work ethic, and his blocking. London’s biggest drawback was his three fumbles. One, against the Chargers, ended the team’s 4th quarter comeback. His Falcon team won a total of 7 games. London’s quarterbacks on the Falcons were Marcus Mariota (13 starts) and Desmond Ridder (4 starts) London’s numbers went up in the final games of the season when Ridder was the starter.
(6’0”/183 lbs-4.38 forty): Wilson collected 83 receptions (147 targets) and 1103 yards. Wilson had 539 more yards than any other Jet receiver. Wilson’s only negative was he fumbled twice. The Jets did beat the Packers (Wilson caught one pass for 8 yards) but they lost their last six games to finish with 7 wins. Wilson totaled 4 touchdowns. Wilson’s Jet quarterback carousel included Zach Wilson (9 starts), Joe Flacco (4), Mike White (4), and Chris Streveler (1).
(6’ 1/2”/186 lbs-4.39 forty) Olave was picked with the next selection in the 2022 draft after Wilson. Olave also had 72 receptions (119 targets) and 4 touchdowns and he added an impressive 1042 yards in his first year. Olave gave back two fumbles. Olave’s Saints totaled 7 wins. The Saints benched Jameis Winston after 3 starts, hampered by a lingering back injury, and stayed with Andy Dalton (14) to finish the season.
Wilson and Olave became the first rookies picked from the same school (Ohio State) to reach 1000 receiving yards in their rookie seasons in NFL history. The two former teammates are the only two receivers nominated for rookie of the year. Wilson won rookie of the week in weeks 2, 8, 12 and 13. Olave did not win the award in any week.
(6’1 ½”/179 lbs-no forty): Williams started the season recovering from surgery. He provided 1 reception to the Lions on 9 targets. His lone reception was a 41 yard touchdown. The Lions won 8 games and Williams played 78 total snaps in 6 games. Detroit’s QB position stayed consistent through the year with Jared Goff getting all 17 starts.
(5’11”/178 lbs-4.43 forty): Dotson tallied 35 catches (61 targets) with 523 yards. Dotson missed games 5-9 to a hamstring injury. Dotson caught seven touchdowns and had one 100 yard game. His Commanders totaled 8 wins. The Commanders pivoted from quarterback Carson Wentz (8), to Taylor Heinicke (9) to Sam Howell with limited success. Dotson won rookie of the week in weeks 1 and 15.
(6’2”/225lbs.-4.55 forty): Burks also missed games 5-9 with a toe injury. Burks totaled 33 catches (54 targets) and 444 yards with one touchdown. His best game came against Green Bay where he totaled 7 catches on 8 targets for 111 yards, his only 100 yard game. Burks’ Titans totaled 7 wins. The Titans started Ryan Tannehill (12), Joshua Dobbs (2), and Malik Willis (3) at quarterback during a disappointing season.
One statistic that jumps out is that none of these teams managed more than 8 wins. Trying to win in the NFL with rookie receivers is not a recipe for success. Most of these teams picking he’d of the Packers were not playoff teams in 2021 and one wide receiver was not going to solve the team’s host of problems. A truism that afflicted the Packers this season is that you need to score touchdowns to win NFL games. Even with the struggles the Packers had in the red zone, Watson leads this rookie group with 9 touchdowns. Davante Adams was the Red Zone weapon that just kept on giving. Not only could he win 90% of the one-on-one coverage matchups in the red zone, other receivers benefitted from a defense aimed at stopping Adams.
Without Adams, new offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich struggled to find ways to score six. While Adams was the number one Packer Red Zone target for Aaron Rodgers for years, in 2022 Adams ended the season with the most receptions of his career, 123, but only 11 touchdowns, just two more than Watson in 2022. Adam’s had 18 touchdowns in 2020. Adam’s second highest total in his career is 13 in 2018. Watson’s seven passing touchdowns led the team and his two rushing touchdowns tied Aaron Jones as the team’s second highest rushing touchdown scorer. Dillon led the rushers with eight TDs. This focus on Dillon and lack of another red zone weapon at tight end helped doom the Packers offense and might be the best argument for drafting a tight end red zone weapon early in 2023’s April draft.
The other factor that stands out is the lack of consistent quarterbacking for most of these receivers. For Wilson to put up his numbers with the quarterback issues in New York is truly impressive. The Packers had 2021’s MVP at quarterback but at age 39, playing with a broken thumb and a struggling offensive line for over half the season, the Packer rookies still struggled with both consistency and playing time, especially in the first half of the year.
Injuries obviously played a huge factor for many of these rookies. Except for Williams, there does not seem to be a first round bust in the group, which is unusual for a pool of first round receivers this large. Williams’ lack of playing time makes him an unknown, but the rest of the bunch has shown promise without high caliber quarterbacking. But potential does not become production without being on the field. The numbers show that the rookies that stayed healthy have numbers twice as high as those who missed multiple games. The rookie numbers for Watson and Doubs per game they played are impressive. But their down time is also concerning. Watson missed game three with a hamstring injury, then missed weeks 6 and 7 when he aggravated the hamstring. He then suffered a concussion in week 8 early in the game. The Packers lost 3 of those four games. Doubs lost 4 games to ankle and knee injuries just as he was really improving. The Packers lost two of those games. Watson’s and Doub’s success in 2023 will depend on a number of factors. Step one is the health of both, especially during the off-season.
Both players must respond to coaching and improving route running, specifically cuts in and out of breaks. Perhaps the biggest factor will be who is throwing the ball and the development of Samori Toure. There is no doubt that the Packers need their young receivers to improve dramatically next year to find themselves in the playoffs. The Packers were at their best when they had multiple targets that were all equally dangerous. The 5 wideouts; Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, and Cobb in 2011 and the 4 in 2013; Nelson, Cobb, Jones and Jermichael Finley. Multiple weapons create defensive problems for the opposition and the Packers need at least two receiving weapons to emerge beyond these two draft picks. The Packers will also need to have patience. Davante Adams didn’t really emerge until year three. Jordy Nelson had his first one thousand yard season in his fourth as a Packer.
Of the teams and players reviewed, the team that seems to most mirror the 2022 Packers from these teams with rookie wideouts is Tennessee. The Titans had been in the playoffs the past three seasons and four out of the previous five. They had a top running game, solid if unspectacular quarterback in Tannehill and a top five wide receiver in A.J. Brown. In the off-season, the Titans lost Brown in free agency, refusing to pay him top dollar. They acquired 10 year veteran Robert Woods from Buffalo, hoping he could match Brown’s numbers. They also drafted Burks, a carbon copy of Brown in physique, but the rookie could not match Brown’s results. The Titans also struggled with offensive line injuries, losing starting guard Nate Davis and center Ben Jones.
These struggles, combined with Tannehill’s injury, left the Titans on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Woods’ 53 receptions for 527 yards worked out better than the Packers attempt to find a quality veteran. Sammy Watkins caught 13 passes for 206 yards before being shown the door. Even with the decent showing from Woods, the Titans could not overcome the loss of Brown. The Packers knew replacing Adams in 2022 with little room under the salary cap after signing Rodgers was impossible, but losing Adams was not the only factor in the playoff swing and miss. Adams’ Raiders also sat out the postseason and his quarterback, who threw for 3522 yards in 15 games, including the majority of the 1500+ totaled by Adams, threw 14 interceptions and will be in another uniform if he is lucky in 2023. The Raider defense let a record breaking number of comebacks occur while they were on the field which makes one wonder if 140 million and two high draft picks was worth the cost to a Raider team that made the playoffs without him in 2021 and was in obvious need of defensive support. The 2022 Raiders did score four more touchdowns than the 2021 team, scoring a total of 395 points.
Unfortunately, the Raider defense gave up 418 points, giving up 20 rushing and 25 passing touchdowns. If the team had spent their money and draft picks on defense, would Carr still have a job? That type of hindsight question could be asked by any fan of any team that missed the playoffs. Including the Packers. The Packers made their choices in 2022. Whether their moves will have long-term benefits into next season is the unanswered question that will only be answered on Lambeau Field in 2023.