Don’t Underestimate the Packers’ Rookie Pass Catchers09/08/2023 • By Greg Meinholz
Then, there were two. We already knew about the Green Bay Packers having one top Wide Receiver in Romeo Doubs nursing a hamstring injury. On Wednesday, we learned of a second. Christian Watson didn’t practice the first two practices of the regular season also due to a hamstring injury. Doubs luckily returned to practice Thursday, but the worries are still there. Suddenly, the sky is falling outside of 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Who’s going to catch passes from Jordan Love in his debut as QB1? Well, there are some rookie pass catchers ready to go that shouldn’t be counted out.
Back in April, the Packers drafted two pass catchers that have shown themselves to be more than capable of producing this season. Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave were both drafted in the second round to help usher in the Love era on offense. In Training Camp and during the Preseason, Jordan Love made sure to get familiar with these new targets.
The Middle of the Field
In the waning years of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay, it was apparent that AR12 preferred to throw to the sidelines. One thing Rodgers could go down in history as being the best at, is protecting the football. Aaron Rodgers would never make a throw he believed had a chance of being intercepted. Where did the majority of those throws lay? On the sidelines. Rarely did he attack the middle of the field. Was it because he didn’t have a big-time tight end to make those catches? Maybe he didn’t really have a true slot receiver that could get the separation he wanted? All those are possibilities. But the Packers now have those weapons in their rookie pass catchers.
Jayden Reed standing at 5’11, 187 lbs is your definition of a slot receiver. He may not have shown a lot of speed with his 40 time at the combine, but he backed up in camp, that he can still fly. Throughout training camp, you could find Reed in the middle of the field often. Jordan Love was not shy to test out his new weapon and would often find the rookie in 2-minute drills to move the chains, as well as in the endzone. This translated to preseason games when Love threw a dart to Reed for a 19-yard touchdown. He should factor in greatly to the offense this season.
When was the last time the Packers had a show-stopping Tight End? You have to go back 10 years to Jermichael Finley to find a player at the position that was a big threat. It’s fitting that rookie tight end Luke Musgrave shares the number 88 with Finley. If there’s one thing Musgrave has shown during camp, it’s that to go along with his 6’6 253 lbs frame, he can run. He’s not a big guy that’s just kind of jogging out there. Musgrave almost has some Wide Receiver speed that will stretch the field for Jordan Love and create mismatches in the secondary. We’ve already seen in camp practices Musgrave take a deep shot down the middle of the field. As soon as the connection gets more comfortable, it’s going to be huge. With Musgrave at 6’6 running at a near DB speed, a Linebacker surely isn’t covering him. Musgrave could become that easy 5–10-yard pass in the middle of the field for Jordan Love for a 1st down or even deeper.
So, What About Week 1?
When you start the season against a division rival, it sets the stakes even higher. Those stakes though, sometimes may only be in the eyes of the fans. Fans want their team to be at 100% for those rivalry games. So, of course we’re all hoping Christian Watson is a go for Sunday. But, what if he isn’t?
Regardless of who is on the field at Wide Receiver and Tight End, I think we’re getting a heavy dose of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. What’s going to help a young first year starting QB? A running game that creates a healthy play-action. After that, I think a mis-matching Tight End and a slot receiver are going to be key. Luke Musgrave and Romeo Doubs can stretch a field. Perhaps not as much as Christian Watson, but against the Bears secondary, I think they could still be effective.
The Bears are going to try to make Jordan Love win the game. They’ll likely try their best to stop the run and force Jordan Love to be the X factor. The fun part of this, is that both Packers top running backs are excellent receivers. So, put a linebacker or safety on Aaron Jones? Luke Musgrave could still beat them up the middle. This team is going to spread the ball around.
Does Christian Watson help them stretch the field? Of course, he does. But it’s not the end of the road if Watson doesn’t play. I still believe this team has what it needs to pull off an Offensive Week 1 win with or without #9.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.