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Green Bay Packers Team Preview: Christian Watson | Fantasy Football

Christian Watson Fantasy

Breakout. It’s more than just a 1986 one-hit wonder from British pop group Swing Out Sister. It’s the thing every fantasy player is hunting for heading into their draft. A player whose production outpaces anything they had done to that point in their career and elevates them from placeholder to league winner. From mid-rounder this year to early-round stud next year. The player your league mates will be begging to trade for–Christian Watson can be that player in fantasy football for 2023.

Christian Watson 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook

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The Build Up

Watson played collegiately at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. His athleticism popped, but his prospect profile was dogged by questions about the consistency of his hands, whether he could handle NFL volume coming from a run-heavy program, and the quality of his competition. An impressive Senior Bowl week put some of those questions to rest. The Scouting Combine verified his historically elite athleticism, as shown by his RAS.Football comp chart.

Credit to @Mathbomb on Twitter and RAS creator Eric Watkins

No one is, or likely ever will be, Calvin Johnson. However, people tend to pay attention when your size-adjusted athleticism demands you be discussed in the same light. He impressed the Packers enough for them to package the 2nd-round pick they received in the Davante Adams trade with their own 2nd-rounder to move up to pick 34 to select him. He joined Packers legends Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Davante Adams as 2nd-round draft pick receivers to thwart the “They never draft receivers in the 1st round!!!” narrative.

The Debut

When Aaron Rodgers decided to skip the Packers’ offseason program, Watson and the Packers receivers worked with backup quarterback Jordan Love. Then when Watson had minor knee surgery and missed the first three weeks of training camp, he lost another opportunity to get repetitions with the starting quarterback and intuitively learn Rodgers’ double secret probation hand signaling. He returned in time to get enough practice work to play in the Packers’ final preseason game, but head coach Matt LaFleur decided to hold him out. We’ll come back to this decision.

Watson’s regular season started in the most ignominious fashion possible. In a Week 1 road game against Minnesota, the Packers’ defense started the game off by allowing a long Vikings touchdown drive. The Packers needed to answer and had a plan that should have worked. Watson ran a fly route and dusted cornerback Patrick Peterson. He tried to catch a perfectly thrown pass from Rodgers…like he was wearing a pair of silicone oven mitts on his hands. He dropped the sure 75-yard touchdown pass, and the Packers were never in the game. Had LaFleur gotten Watson into a preseason game and had his first competitive NFL touches come in a meaningless game, things may have turned out differently. Maybe that’s just me.

A series of injuries would make Watson an on-again/off-again proposition through the first half of the season. He missed the Week 3 game in Tampa following a hamstring injury. He re-aggravated that injury in the Packers’ Week 5 game in London and left the game after receiving only two touches. Then, the Packers chose not to take their bye week following the trip to Europe. So, that hamstring injury also cost him games in Weeks 6 and 7.

Watson finally returned for the Packers’ Week 8 game in Buffalo, but a 1st quarter concussion took him out again. He made it through concussion protocol in time to play in the Week 9 game in Detroit but suffered a hit to the head immediately after halftime. The team pulled him out of an abundance of caution. It was deemed he did not, in fact, suffer another concussion, but the time was already lost.

Week 10 against Dallas was when we finally saw what a healthy Christian Watson could do on an NFL field. Four catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns in an upset win over the Cowboys. He would score four more touchdowns in the ensuing three weeks. In fact, 50 of his 66 pass targets came in the season’s final eight weeks. In the Packers’ win-or-go-home finale against Detroit in Week 18, Watson probably played his best game of the season with five catches on six targets for 104 yards.

His final stats for the year were 41 receptions, 611 yards, and seven touchdowns. It’s important to remember that his per-game averages are skewed by the three games he had to leave early with an injury. The ledger shows him playing in 14 games, but the injuries effectively cost him two games worth of snaps.

The Breakout

Breakouts don’t happen in a vacuum. Watson’s improvement will lift the offense, and a better offensive environment will facilitate his improvement. How does trading away a future Hall of Fame quarterback and replacing him with one who has started one game in his career lead to improvement of the offense? I’m glad you asked.

Aaron Rodgers had hijacked this offense. He was running it the way he wanted to play, not the way the coach and play caller intended. Matt LaFleur came from the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay coaching system and presumably wants to run his offense similarly. That includes tempo, pre-snap motion, the QB primarily under center, horizontal route concepts in the passing game, and focus on the zone running scheme. The way Rodgers wanted to play was diametrically opposed to these concepts. He was open about his disdain for pre-snap motion, preferred to play from the shotgun, and consistently ran the play clock down before taking the snap.

They say when you age, you turn into your parents. Aaron Rodgers turned into Mike McCarthy. McCarthy refused to adapt his scheme and play calling to an evolving league. He became stale and predictable, and the game passed him by. The same could be said of Rodgers. He eschews using pre-snap motion to dictate defensive alignments in favor of play clock usage to identify those alignments. Not to say he can’t be successful in New York in a system designed for how he wants (read: demands) to play. He just wasn’t a fit for this offense.

Jordan Love doesn’t have to be a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers for the offense to improve. He just needs to be a better quarterback for this scheme. I fully believe he will be.

Despite his limited experience, he has shown he has the requisite athleticism to succeed in the league. That athleticism will provide mobility Rodgers has lacked for years, both to escape the pocket to make throws and as a threat to run. Love can make the RPO a vital piece of the offense. Rodgers can’t spell RPO.

Most importantly, Love will be a conduit for LaFleur on the field. He’s had three years in the system. He can teach his young receiving corps without demanding they know hand signals that they’ve never seen, haven’t been taught, and probably haven’t been used in a game since the first Obama administration.

So if we have an improved offense, we have one piece in place for a Christian Watson breakout. The rest is up to him. Obviously, he has to stay healthier than he did in his rookie season. An offseason in the weight room and full training camp will go a long way toward making that happen. His efficiency was quite good as a rookie. Now he needs the volume to go with that efficiency to become a star.

To wit: a brief look at Watson’s Player Profiler page shows some impressive numbers. He was #1 in Fantasy Points per Target (2.52), #2 in QB Rating per Target (123.3), #3 in Fantasy Points per Route Run (.64), and perhaps, most impressively, #1 in Target Premium at +53.2%. Per Player Profiler, Target Premium is “The percentage of additional fantasy points per target that a receiver generates over and above the other pass catchers on his team. This metric is especially useful when examining the impact of a quarterback upgrade on a player’s future production.”

If you believe, as I do, that Jordan Love is a better QB for the Packers and will run a more efficient offense, this is your best indication that Christian Watson’s ceiling is somewhere up around the GPS satellites currently orbiting the planet.

Be sure you’re following Joel on Twitter. You can also find more of his Club Fantasy work here!

A Look Inside the Green Bay Packers

Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Joel’s article focused on Christian Watson in fantasy football, he also gave us a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Packers.

Jordan Love

A rising tide lifts all boats—even your own. Love wants to and can win from the pocket. So, don’t expect “Cheat Code QB” numbers from him, but Rodgers’ 26 passing TDs from last year are easily in reach. Plus, the three rushing TDs from each of Rodgers’ ‘20 & ‘21 MVP years should be his floor.

Aaron Jones / AJ Dillon

The base offense will revolve around them. They’ll benefit from a very good offensive line and won’t have to deal with the QB forcing passes at the goal line. Dillon is a much better runner from under center than from shotgun formation. The offensive realignment may benefit his efficiency as much as anyone on the team.

Romeo Doubs

Doubs dealt with his own injury issues last year. He’s also been vocal about how important practice time with the QB is to him. Doubs is another candidate for a second-year leap.

Jayden Reed

This offense was begging for a slot option last year. I think he’ll be a better real-life player than a consistent fantasy option, but I would be happy to be wrong about that.

Luke Musgrave

Musgrave is Ultra-athletic and ultra-talented. He needs to prove he can stay healthy, but it’s no hyperbole to say he’ll be the Packers’ best tight end since Jermichael Finley. Besides Robert Tonyan’s outlier touchdown season, this position has been a fantasy wasteland in Green Bay. Musgrave can change that.

Tucker Kraft

It’s wise to double down when your position room is a vacuum. You increase your chances of getting at least one and hopefully two viable starters. The Packers did just that in the draft. Kraft is likely to be the less-fantasy-relevant in-line TE. But it wouldn’t be the first time a team (even/especially this one) has doubled down on a position and seen the lower-drafted one become the star.

We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles