Packers Place Veteran WR on Injury List to Start Camp: Report

Watkins NFI List

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers looks on in the first half of a preseason game against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on August 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Green Bay Packers took a gamble on their receiving corps this offseason when they avoided big-ticket receivers in free agency and decided to make injured-trouble Sammy Watkins their only veteran signing at the position. Now, they will be forced to begin 2022 training camp with Watkins on the sideline.

According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the Packers placed Watkins on the active/non-football injury list (NFI) on July 26 when veterans reported for camp, meaning he will not be allowed to practice with the team until he is medically cleared to return.

Fortunately, ESPN’s Rob Demovksy added that “there’s no cause for long-term concern” with Watkins and that the Packers expect that “he will return sooner rather than later.”

It is currently unclear how Watkins sustained his injury or what type of injury it is exactly. He did miss three games with Baltimore in 2021 with a thigh injury, but it is almost certainly unrelated since he finished the regular season healthy. For now, the Packers will just have to hope he can return to practice soon and continue building chemistry with back-to-back MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the new year.

The Packers will also not have second-round rookie wide receiver Christian Watson available for the beginning of camp, as he landed on the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list when rookies reported last Friday. The nature of Watson’s injury is also unknown, but he will be eligible to return as soon as he is medically cleared. And much like Watkins, the Packers are expecting him back “sooner than later,” according to Ross Uglem of Packer Report

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Could Watkins’ Injury Cost Him With Packers?

While it is good to hear Demovsky report that the Packers don’t have a long-term concern with Watkins, an injury before the start of his first training camp in Green Bay is … far from ideal for someone with a career-long history of injuries.

The 29-year-old Watkins has missed at least one game due to injuries in each of his last seven seasons in the NFL, including four games in 2021 and six games in 2020. In fact, the only season in which the former No. 4 overall pick played every game was in 2014 when he was a highly-touted rookie for the Buffalo Bills. Since then, Watkins has experienced issues in his thighs, hamstrings, calves, ankles and both of his feet and has been forced to miss a grand total of 27 games throughout his career.

The Packers haven’t invested much in Watkins — guaranteeing him just $350,000 of his $1.85 million contract — but that is something that could work either for and against the veteran receiver depending on how quickly he can get back on the practice field. On one hand, he is the second-most-accomplished receiver on the Packers’ current roster and could have massive upside if he can fully embrace his fresh start, especially at such a low investment cost. But on the other, the Packers could decide to cut him loose if availability looks like it will be a concern and gain back $1.422 million in cap space, according to Watkins’ contract details from Over the Cap.

The fact of the matter is that until Watkins can get healthy and start proving on the field that he can help the Packers win in 2022, his job won’t be secure.

Opportunities Open Up for Other Packers WRs

There is a glass-half-full way of looking at Watson and Watkins both missing the start of camp with injuries. For however long it takes them to return to the field, the Packers will be able to devote more attention/reps to the other receivers vying for playing time and roster spots with the team in 2022. That should especially benefit the Packers’ other two rookie draft picks, fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs and seventh-rounder Samori Toure.

As a fourth-round pick, Doubs is all but certain to be a lock for the 53-man roster this season, but he can potentially propel himself ahead of Watson on the depth chart if he can build a strong rapport with Rodgers early in camp. He is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Nevada and caught 20 touchdowns over his final two years with the Wolf Pack, using his strong blend of size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and speed to get good separation downfield. If he can develop trust with his quarterback early and often, he could become a legitimate deep threat in the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, additional practice reps could quite literally help Toure solidify a place on the Packers’ active roster for his rookie season. There’s an argument to be made that general manager Brian Gutekunst would most likely not move on from a skill-position player that he used a draft pick to acquire, even if it was only a seventh-rounder, but Toure is at risk of becoming the forgotten man in a room that also includes non-rookies Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor and Juwann Winfree.

Toure had a standout year as Nebraska’s leading receiver in 2021, catching 46 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns and finishing the regular season ranked second nationally in 70-plus-yard catches (two); however, it was also his first and only season playing in the FBS. That’s no knock against Toure — who made 155 receptions for 2,488 yards and 20 touchdowns over his three seasons at Montana in the FCS — but it does mean he has more to prove than most if he wants to contribute for the offense.

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