If Christian Watson isn't a No. 1 receiver, where can the Packers turn?
The Packers believed Christian Watson would emerge as a true No. 1 receiver in 2023. So far, the returns suggest someone else will have to assume that role.
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At the conclusion of the 2022 season, arguably no member of the Green Bay Packers had a more promising future than Christian Watson. The wide receiver had just delivered an explosive rookie year, one that saw him lift the offense out of the doldrums with a team-high nine touchdowns. Watson had some rough edges to smooth out, but his status as a future superstar seemed all but assured.
Yet halfway through 2023, that outlook has changed dramatically. Whereas Watson's speed and playmaking ability created more big plays and touchdowns than anyone else on the Packers' roster a year ago, he has taken part in some of the team's worst moments this season. Exactly half of Jordan Love's 10 interceptions have come on passes thrown to Watson, including two picks during Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Too often this season, Watson hasn't played like a 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver with elite speed. He doesn't separate from defenders at nearly the rate one would expect after his dominant rookie year. He can't seem to find the end zone despite ample opportunities. Perhaps most damningly, he has rarely won at the catch point despite his size advantage. Those shortcomings have resulted in frustration for the offense and the head coach.
"I think he just needs to go out there and play fast, play decisive, and play confident, because he's a guy that has all the ability," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of Watson's struggles. "He's a big guy that can run, and we need him to show that every opportunity on tape. If guys are going to get up in your face and want to bump you, you got to be in attack mode. You got to come off the line of scrimmage with a great stance and start and try to work people's edges and get on top of them that way."
Just 20 games and 815 snaps into Watson's NFL career, it remains too early to write him off. Player development rarely follows a linear path, and the Packers have seen wideouts thrive after difficult second seasons. Still, the team cannot ignore Watson's shortcomings, and the expectations have to adjust accordingly. Despite his otherworldly talent, he might never reach the potential he displayed just a year ago.
So, if Watson can't ascend to the status of a true No. 1 receiver, where do the Packers go from there?