Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is starting to believe that new wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be a player he can depend on in 2022.
Rodgers has been effusive in his praise for Watkins over the past few weeks of practice, ever since the 2014 first-round pick took over in the Packers’ first joint practice against the New Orleans Saints back on August 16. At the time, Rodgers said it was Watkins’ “best practice at camp” and complimented him for being “a gamer” against the Saints.
Two weeks later, Rodgers says he sees “a different player” in the 29-year-old receiver.
“I’ll tell you what: Ever since the Saints practice, the first one, Sammy has been a different player,” Rodgers told reporters on August 31. “He’s been super reliable. Every practice he’s made a bunch of plays. Today, made a bunch of plays again.”
Watkins has come to Green Bay looking to revitalize his NFL career after struggling to live up to his potential as a former No. 4 overall pick for the Buffalo Bills. He has caught 348 passes for 5,059 yards and 34 touchdowns over his first eight seasons in the league, but he has missed chunks of time due to injuries and bounced between four teams without being able to stick. Perhaps, though, if he can keep the trust of a four-time NFL MVP, things might finally work out for him in the best kind of way with the Packers.
The Packers will begin their 2022 season on the road against the Minnesota Vikings at 4:25 p.m. ET on September 11.
The latest Packers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Packers newsletter here!
Watkins Impressed With Rodgers in Huddle
Watkins has also been pretty complimentary of his new quarterback since arriving in Green Bay; though, that’s probably expected given Rodgers has won MVP in each of the past two seasons. He told reporters at the beginning of training camp that the way Rodgers carries himself in the huddle, even on the practice field, makes him calmer.
He also believes Rodgers is on a higher level than the other MVP-winning quarterbacks that have thrown him the ball, such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
“I’ve been with both of them, and I’m gonna be honest,” Watkins said on July 29 when Randall Cobb asked him about the two quarterbacks in the locker room, “I think Pat is unbelievably good, but A-Rod is on a whole different level.”
Staying Healthy Will Be Critical for Watkins
A strengthening connection between Rodgers and Watkins can only be a good thing for the Packers’ offense in the season ahead, but more important than a relationship with his quarterback is the 29-year-old’s ability to stay on the field.
Watkins has missed a combined 27 games due to injuries over his eight seasons in the league, including 10 absences that have come over the past two years. He also landed on the non-football injury list to begin training camp with the Packers thanks to a minor hamstring injury; though, he only missed a handful of practices. The opportunity for a career revival is certainly within reach for the former No. 4 overall pick, but his health should be the utmost priority for both him and the Packers.
The good thing is the Packers have the ability to manage Watkins’ usage to avoid overworking him or putting him at increased risk for injury. They kept seven receivers for their initial 53-man roster, including three rookies that could have meaningful roles in their future if they develop correctly. Whereas in the past the Packers have sometimes been forced to feed reps to their two or three top players, they are in the unique position — due to their roster-building strategy — of being able to spread the ball out far more than the first three seasons of Matt LaFleur’s tenure as head coach.
“I don’t think anybody’s clear cut in front of the other guy,” LaFleur told reporters on August 31. “I think it’s gonna be very much the ball’s gonna get spread around and we’re gonna try to feature different guys in different spots.”