The Lass Word: Watkins Should Take Nothing for Granted

Roster spot for veteran receiver is not assured.

As the Green Bay Packers continue offseason training activities, a handful of established veterans have chosen not to attend.  Tuesday’s workout was open to beat writers, who compiled a list of those absent.  The missing included Aaron Rodgers, Allen Lazard, Marcedes Lewis, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Jonathan Garvin and Randy Ramsey. 

These OTAs are voluntary and thus, it is understandable that a veteran who is assured of his starting slot come training camp, such as Rodgers, Lazard, Gary and Smith, might elect to wait until the mandatory mini camp to report later this month.  But any player, veteran or rookie, who figures to have to fight for a spot on the roster, especially if it’s your first year in Green Bay, would be well advised to stay in town, get on the field as often as possible, and start trying to execute the system, impress the coaches and get the lay of the land. 

Which made it a bit surprising that receiver Sammy Watkins was also on the missing list.  The Packers signed Watkins in April in an effort to bolster their inexperienced receiver room.  The starting receiver positions are wide open at this point, and there is a trio of hungry, eager, drafted rookies looking for playing time, as well as returning veterans Lazard, Randall Cobb, Malik Taylor and Juwann Winfree.   According to Twitter reports, Watkins did show up for practice on Wednesday. 

 Many Packer fans seem to think Watkins is a lock to make the team and even start, but I’m not so sure either one of those things is a safe bet.  The nine year veteran out of Clemson signed a contract with a low cap hit of just over $1.8 million, but only $350,000 of it is guaranteed.  (Spotrac) That makes him easy to cut if it looks like the younger pass catchers offer more upside.  Watkins has also had availability issues.  He’s only played a full season once in his career.  He missed four games with the Ravens last season, six games with the Chiefs the year before.  Over the course of his career, he’s missed a total of thirty regular season games, an average of nearly four games per season. 

Watkins was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, and after his first two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, he looked to be on his way to stardom, having racked up 2,029 yards and 15 touchdown receptions over that span.  But since then he has never amassed more than 673 yards in a single campaign, and his production has been decreasing in four of the last five years.  Last season he had 27 catches for 394 yards and one score.  All three of those figures are career lows.  He did not play in Baltimore’s December 19th game against the Packers.   

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the Ravens are a running team and throw the ball very conservatively.  When they do put it up, Lamar Jackson’s favorite target by far is his tight end Mark Andrews.  Still, Watkins finished behind in receptions to guys like Marquise Brown, David Duvernay, and Rashod Batemon.  Not exactly a murderer’s row of competition.   

I’m certainly not down on Watkins.  I think he can definitely help the Packers this fall.  So does receivers coach Jason Vrable, who coached Watkins in Buffalo.  “I know how he can catch and how strong he is; a lot of the good things that he can do,” Vrable said, per Jason Wilde.  “He’s learning the playbook.”  To his credit, Watkins was in Green Bay during much of the offseason, taking part in the conditioning program and field drills. 

But his absence on Tuesday was noticed in high places.  Following practice, coach Matt LaFleur said “We’re going to coach the guys that want to be here.  We’re going to try to get those guys as good as possible so that they can be in contention to make the roster when it comes down to it”.  When asked specifically about Watkins, LaFleur responded “I’m not comfortable with anyone not being here.”   

Watkins has been around long enough to get the message.  Whether his missing the first days of OTAs was deliberate, or due to travel difficulties, it was critical for him to report.  Some might ask if there is any point to his presence if Aaron Rodgers, the guy who will actually be throwing passes to him when it counts, is not there?  The answer is yes.  Watkins doesn’t have the cache’ built up with his coaches to be cavalier about OTAs.  He needs to impress them.   

Christian Watson is a second round draft pick, really almost a first rounder considering he was taken at number 34.  The Packers will want to get him ready to play sooner than later.  Winfree and Taylor have years in the system and have caught passes in real games from Rodgers.  Lazard and Cobb are incumbent starters.  Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure are hungry and eager draft prospects.  It may be harder for Sammy Watkins to make this roster than you think. 

Just ask Devin Funchess. 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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5 points

Comments (39)

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Savage57's picture

June 03, 2022 at 06:31 am

Being a glass half-full guy, I like to look at it like this.

Between Cobb and Watkins, the Packers will have one experienced, veteran WR available over the course of the season.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:54 am

Me too. We need two, or three, WRs on the field.

Watkins and Watson
Lazard and Doubs
Amari and Cobb

We have a very good chance to line up a healthy, capable guy at all three spots, over 17 games, even with injuries. We could end up seeing quite a few different combinations.

I understand the author’s point, but I’d say it’s at least 90% that Watkins will start for this team this year.

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NickPerry's picture

June 03, 2022 at 06:45 am

Hmmmm...Maybe this is why the guy never lived up to being the 4th over all draft pick in 2014.

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dobber's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:28 am

Let's not lose sight of the fact that Adams missed his share of games in recent years, too. I might be one of the few who thinks this was a sneaky-good signing--60 catches, 900 yards, 8 TD. Low money on a guy who needs a chance to show he's still relevant and valuable...and he's not going to get a better chance than with ARod and a wide-open depth chart. Watkins has been in town a big chunk of the offseason and is familiar with his positional coach, so I'm not terribly concerned with his missing some OTA time--but he has to know that he needs to turn it on and be available.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:30 am

Because he missed one day of voluntary OTAs? Hmmm doubtful. I'd definitely say health and running around in shorts in May probably doesn't have much correlation with his health in the fall.

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Dragon5's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:33 am

Alcohol addiction

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Johnblood27's picture

June 03, 2022 at 10:14 am

Scurvy...

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PeteK's picture

June 03, 2022 at 03:22 pm

Limey

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YouAskedForThis's picture

June 03, 2022 at 01:54 pm

"Maybe this is why the guy never lived up to being the 4th over all draft pick".

Wouldn't have anything to do with EJ Manual, Tyrod Taylor, Jared Goff, and Lamar Odom(wonderful runner but erratic passer) ... being his QBs ??

Watkins has certainly had his issues but, other than Mahomes, hasn't had stable QB play either.

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marpag1's picture

June 04, 2022 at 05:19 am

LOL. I don't remember Lamar Odom being such a good runner ;)

And "other than Mahomes" is a pretty big "other..."

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murf7777's picture

June 03, 2022 at 06:49 am

If the best he could find is a $350,000 guaranteed money he is far from locked in on a roster spot. The WR position will be the most hotly contested position on the Packers. I’m not even sure they are done adding them to this roster. You have to wonder how badly Watson wants it by not attending.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:28 am

Murf, without a doubt, Watkins is a better WR right now than any of the rookies. He has no history of being a bad teammate. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

In a Bleacher Report two years ago, he presented as an odd duck. But there’s lots of odd ducks in the world.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 05, 2022 at 02:56 pm

quack quack

if it walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, .......

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egbertsouse's picture

June 03, 2022 at 07:28 am

Yeah, Watkins better watch his step. Their WR room is stacked. Let’s see, their top receiver hasn’t signed a tender yet. Then there is Grandpa Cobb, who will give you 6 games, maybe. And Amari Rodgers who has a couple of catches. A couple of practice squad guys. And a whole bunch of rookies who haven’t played a single snap of big boy football. Yup, loaded.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

June 03, 2022 at 06:38 pm

Yeah Grandpa Cobb at 31. Driver had over 1K yards at age 34, Jordy has over 1200 yds at age 31, James Jones had just under 900 yards at age. 31, and if you go outside the organization there's plenty of guys that have produced at that age. Not expecting Cobb to have a career year, but we don't need him to. We need key 3rd down plays for a first, and some sneaky TD catches. He can provide that.

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dobber's picture

June 03, 2022 at 07:43 am

This is a very unsettled WR situation, and there are guys (Taylor, Winfree, etc.) hanging at the fringes of the roster who might compete for a spot based on their willingness to play STs. Is Watkins a lock? Not a lock, but I feel pretty confident he'll be in the room and at or near the top of the WR rotation when September rolls around. I think he's a good fit for what the Packers like to do with their WR, and he can still run as evidenced by a higher ypc and target depth in 2021 than during his time in KC.

Yes, there needs to be some concern based on 2021, too, where he got off to a good start but was eventually marginalized in Baltimore. Still, he's cheap, he's got the tools, and he needs to know that if he flops in GB or fails to make the 53, he pretty much can hang it up. A strong showing in GB likely nets him one last 2-3 year deal with some guaranteed money from someone (probably not the Packers) next season. Hopefully the Packers will benefit from that.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 03, 2022 at 11:26 am

He got off to a good start, then he got hurt, then his QB got hurt. He’s only 28. I’m not worried about the second half of last season.

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mrtundra's picture

June 03, 2022 at 07:51 am

Watkins will have to earn his spot in the GB WR rotation, for sure. He and Amari seem to be the forgotten WRs, on the squad. Everyone talks Watson, Doubs, Lazard, Cobb, and to some small extent, Toure when they talk Packers' WRs. I think Watkins will have to prove he belongs on the squad and can play a full season, injury free. I also think he could be a big factor for us on offense once ARod gets the ball to him, when we need to move the chains. I look for Watkins and Amari to both have solid seasons, receiving the ball from ARod and Love. GO PACK, GO!!! ALL GAS, NO BRAKES!!!

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dobber's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:22 am

I think the two WR likely to be on the field on early downs--especially early in the season--will be Lazard and Watkins. Watkins is no Adams, but he can still get downfield to threaten a defense (and don't be surprised if the Packers try that tactic to establish him that way early on), and is a willing and effective run blocker. I think he'll have to perform to keep that spot, of course, but with likely less 11 personnel coming this season, I think he'll get his chances to be on the field early.

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stockholder's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:33 am

1. This team revolves around Rodgers. And every veteran knows it.
2. They are here for Rodgers, Not Jordan Love!
So why should they show up for Love? They know the chemistry will be with Rodgers. And with all the Rookies in camp. You give them a chance to learn this offense first. The more Reps they get. The better for the team. It isn't mandatory, so cut the missing some slack.

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Oppy's picture

June 03, 2022 at 05:25 pm

Davante Adams isn't here for Rodgers

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Oppy's picture

June 05, 2022 at 09:47 am

I'm sure no one will see this, but I'm interested to know what people think about the David Carr comments that Davante Adams had been trying to force a trade to the Raiders for "several years."

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marpag1's picture

June 04, 2022 at 05:40 am

The plays and the verbiage are what they are, regardless of which QB is under center. If Watkins wants to learn what "83 Pronto, reverse zip-cord left, double pumpkin smash, on three" is...

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PeteK's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:43 am

Well, he showed up on Wednesday, better than nothing. Amari Rogers a no show is disappointing and ridiculous.

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greengold's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:50 am

I have to agree, Pete. That’s one guy on the top of no one’s list.

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PatrickGB's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:02 am

Amari as a “no show”? That’s not good. He better have a good reason. It’s not like he is a quality , seasoned vet!

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Oppy's picture

June 03, 2022 at 05:28 pm

All these young WRs got to watch their 'leader' hold out a significant portion of 2021 off season, hell, most of them played hooky with #12.

"I learned it from watching you!"

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greengold's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:12 am

LaFleur’s comments were more likely a general stance on Voluntary OTAs. What else is he going to say?

If Watkins isn’t our #1WR walking into TC, then who is..?

Personally, I think Sammy Watkins could have a career year with the talent around him. Lazard too, after he is re-signed. The speed added in draft will have to be honored, clearing the way for AR to hit both high percentage targets in single coverage.

Jason Vrabel should be a good x-factor for Watkins, who coached him in his most successful years.

Watkins
Lazard
Cobb
Rodgers
Watson
Doubs
Toure

I don’t see the Packers veering from this group of 7 players. Maybe Cobb gets stashed PUP/IR to keep Winfree, but I doubt it with other players needing those spots more (Bak, Jenkins, Myers, Tonyan).

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PatrickGB's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:58 am

GG, I agree with most of your post. However, I don’t understand how Cobb would get “stashed” on PUP/IR. Is there an unreported injury we don’t know about? Or maybe one of the above will actually get injured and warrant the designation?

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greengold's picture

June 03, 2022 at 09:05 am

Ha! Patrick! Too funny… yeah, you caught me making a preemptive strike!

There’s often some way to stash a player with a back or an ankle injury on those lists. I’ve thought Gutekunst might do something like that to save the old vet wear & tear until playoff time.

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dobber's picture

June 03, 2022 at 04:46 pm

I see where you're coming from: with 9+ bodies at WR, you can bet that someone will likely get hurt in camp. If you put a player on IR before the season starts, they're done. Otherwise, you have to include them on the 53 at the final cutdown before moving to IR if you want to be able to recall them. If they participate in practice at all, they're not PUP eligible.

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greengold's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:54 pm

Exactly. There’s limitations IR/PUP, plus, Cobb on the roster bring another compounding set of limitations. Adding further, Bak, Jenkins, Tonyan, Myers may require some of those maneuverings.

Not bashing Cobb, as he’s still a savvy player, just a bit slower. Still, he’s a kind of token keep. He stays, and I believe there’s zero chance of Gutekunst exposing Toure to PS. He’s a steal. That’s why I think they’ll be firm in keeping 7 WRs.

Having an extra WR won’t hurt with all the PR work we’ll see with this defense.

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PatrickGB's picture

June 03, 2022 at 08:52 am

At first I was concerned that he was not at voluntary OTAs. But after reading that he has been in the building doing conditioning stuff and learning the playbook for some time, I don’t worry anymore. He is a vet and catching passes from Jordan with a bunch of rookies is not high on his “to do” list. He will be fine. It’s the whole training camp experience that will be important. If he plays well, great. If he doesn’t play well then that’s on him. Still, I suspect that he will be a starter. Aaron Rodgers can make a good player look even better.

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jont's picture

June 03, 2022 at 10:48 am

Lazard's absence is worth a mention, IMO.

Yes, it's voluntary and he's a veteran and nothing at the OTA is new to him, but he has a remarkable opportunity available to him right now if he wants to be The Guy.

He's got some skills, works well with his QB, and is well regarded by his coaches. If he adds some of Davante's obsessive improvement at his craft then he could, maybe, become something special.

Maybe not, maybe he is all he's going to be as a WR, but as a fan (of the team and of him) I'd like to see him go all in and get a little more of Cobb's attitude.

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HarryHodag's picture

June 03, 2022 at 11:00 am

Much ado about nothing.

Remember the word 'voluntary'. I suspect he will appear at the mandatory camp in a few days. What many fans forget is players are familiar with systems across the league. While Watkins might not have a full handle on all the terminology, etc. he certainly is aware of the concepts that MLF uses. Since Aaron Rodgers wasn't there why not have a few more days off until the 'A' team arrives?

If he doesn't show up for the mandatory minicamp then that's a different story. At that point you simply cut him and sign or trade for another receiver. Lowry is one trade possibility.

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cdoemel's picture

June 05, 2022 at 01:48 am

It’s the point! New team. New coaches. New vibe. Have you not paid attention to the brotherhood and culture of the team? It’s important I think. Seems like they do too

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Packman60's picture

June 03, 2022 at 11:01 am

You forgot to mention that Watkins has never played special teams and both Winfree and Taylor have. If Watkins isn't in the top 3 and likely to play a lot he will not make the team as they'll utilize the spot for someone who can contribute on special teams, which is a big point of emphasis for them this year.

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Packers0808's picture

June 03, 2022 at 01:51 pm

Watkins is a lock,IF the Packers do not add another Vet WR!

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Carpy's picture

June 03, 2022 at 04:12 pm

Well stated, Ken. Given the losses of Tae and MVS, I might say Watkins is not a lock, but rather highly likely to make the final cuts. But I think two factors (at least) work against his making the roster. In the "seasoned vet" category, we already have Randall Cobb, who as we know has a history and very strong rapport with the starting QB. I realize Watkins and Cobb are not of the same type of receiver, but when you have so much youth fighting for spots and you used 3 picks in the current draft to stock up, there may be limited spots open for the older, short-term guys. They drafted guys with serious speed to open up the field, and they're not likely to give up on Watson or Doubs in their first year, even if either were to drop every pass thrown his way in pre-season (and don't overlook Samori Toure). The second point, which you raised, is the injury history. It is possible that Watkins somehow manages to stay on the field for all 17 games (plus playoffs). But anyone who follows sports, especially a physically grueling one such as football, knows that once a player incurs a couple of serious injuries, they tend to incur more and more down the line. Maybe it's partly the stress of the rehab, or the time away from their usual training program, that weakens certain muscles, ligaments, etc., I don't know (I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV). IMHO, I prefer to see them take some early season "lumps" with a younger, promising player than cut someone in favor of a guy who may give them a half season before landing on IR. That said, I wish Watkins well and hope he makes the team and gives the offense some juice, as well as veteran leadership.

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