For the past four seasons, the connection between Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams was arguably the best in football. A year ago, it seemed that partnership might dissolve amid Rodgers’ drama with the team.
While those fences were mended, Adams was dealt to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason after not coming to terms on a long-term pact. In addition, No. 2 receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling departed in free agency, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
With his longtime safety net and premier deep threat both gone, Rodgers will need to adjust on the fly to a group that’s primarily a mix unproven and past-their-prime options. The biggest additions are second-round pick Christian Watson, who rated as one of the best pure athletes at receiver in the past 30-plus years, and Sammy Watkins, the talented but oft injured veteran. Holdovers include Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Amari Rodgers.
While it’s always possible that a second-year jump from Rodgers or unexpectedly quick ascension from someone like fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs could shake things up, for now we’ll focus on the quartet of Lazard, Watson, Cobb, and Watkins.
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At present, Lazard looks like the clear favorite to be Green Bay’s top receiver in 2022. While not a burner, the Iowa State product has proven he can produce when called upon, and his eight receiving TDs last year were second only to Adams (11).
He has good size and is an excellent blocker, which should mean he’ll see a lot of snaps. Perhaps more importantly, Lazard has No. 12’s trust, and nowhere is the QB-WR trust component more critical than in Green Bay.
Watkins is the first receiver the Packers have drafted in the second round or higher since Adams in 2014, and at pick 34 he’s the earliest receiver they’ve selected since Javon Walker in 2002. Between that, the dearth of exciting options, the presence of Rodgers, and the franchise’s track record of identifying high-end talent in Round 2, expectations are high. They should probably be tempered.
That’s not an indictment of Watson’s potential. His size-speed combination is what teams dream about, and it’d be shocking not to see head coach Matt LaFleur find a way to feature him in spots as a rookie. Watson is raw coming out of a run-first offense at North Dakota State, however, and Rodgers in his age-39 season isn’t likely to care much about what Watson could become in 2024.
On paper, Watkins is a nice replacement for MVS on a much friendlier pay scale. The veteran excels in most of the same areas that Valdes-Scantling did, being a legitimate threat to stretch the field and a quality blocker in the run game.
As ever, though, availability is the key. The 29-year-old has missed 18 games combined over the last four seasons, and he hasn’t topped 700 yards since 2015, which was his second year in the league. There’s probably more upside with Watkins than many think, but that won’t matter if he can’t stay on the field.
Reacquired to soothe over the frayed relationship between Rodgers and the Packers, Cobb had a couple of big games last season but suffered a core injury against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 28 and didn’t return until the playoffs.
Clearly, Cobb is on the downside of his career, but one need only go back to 2015 to see when a past-his-prime James Jones returned to Green Bay and posted a 50-890-8 line to lead a thinned Packers receiving corps. That’s not unthinkable for Cobb in 2022 as nobody carries the individual cache with Rodgers that he does.
Fantasy football outlook
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Green Bay’s week-to-week receiving numbers be based on game plan and who they feel they can take advantage of individual matchups rather than a clear hierarchy.
That could change if someone truly emerges as a go-to guy, of course, and Lazard seems the most capable. He’d be a solid WR4 choice with upside, but physical limitations should keep his ceiling no more than a fringe No. 2/WR3 in PPR.
After that, you’re rolling the dice. Watson’s athleticism and talent make him an intriguing late-round flier, as does Cobb’s connection with Rodgers. The latter is hardly draftable and only in reception-rewarding formats. Watson is a No. 5 with potential for frequent flex utility.
Watkins makes for a gamble in best-ball formats but offers about as much downside as reward likelihood in conventional settings.