Eleven games into the season, and the Green Bay Packers‘ rookie receivers have been on the field at the same time for what amounts to less than one full game.
If there is anything the Packers (4-7) would like to see from here to the finish line in the final six games of what looks like a lost season — other than perhaps some game action for backup quarterback Jordan Love — it’s more of what the rookie receivers can do together.
Doubs has missed all but one play of the past three games. Since Doubs’ ankle injury on the first play against the Lions in Week 9, Watson has taken flight. And while Doubs was making plays in training camp, preseason and in the early part of the regular season, Watson couldn’t stay on the field.
• College rivalries spill into NFL locker rooms
• Chef Hoppie cooks for Cowboys’ stars
• Why DET, DAL play every Thanksgiving
• GB needs WRs Watson, Doubs healthy
• Patriots’ red zone struggles
• Bills juggling defensive backs
“Those are certainly two guys that we’re excited about and definitely want to get out there just in terms of just their playmaking ability,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think you’ve seen the more these young guys play, the more confidence they’re getting, the better they’re going to play, and they’ve got some juice, too. I think that’s certainly been a noticeable difference the last couple games with Christian out there.”
Watson and Doubs have been tied together ever since general manager Brian Gutekunst picked them in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, of this year’s draft as part of the receiver build in the post-Davante Adams era.
Rarely was one mentioned without the other before the season — until Watson missed most of training camp because of a knee injury. The spotlight first found Doubs, while Watson remained in the background because of a combination of dropped passes and more injuries (a hamstring that kept him out of three games and a concussion that limited his snaps in two others).
In the first nine games, Doubs played 396 snaps and had 31 catches for 314 yards and three touchdowns. To that point, Watson had 10 catches for 88 yards without a touchdown. Without Doubs in the past two games, Watson has eight catches for 155 yards and five touchdowns. Nearly half of his 224 total snaps this season have come in the last two games.
“I think we’ve got to get the ball to our playmakers, and he’s stepped up the last two games,” Rodgers said of Watson after Thursday’s loss to the Titans. “The over-the-shoulder catch [against the Cowboys] opened up a whole new world of confidence for him. We caught them with too many on the field, and I gave him a ‘trust ball’. Threw it up in the back of the end zone, and he came down with it.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence. If you look at the week of practice prior to last Sunday, he had many drops really throughout practices for the season. The last few days, no drops. He caught everything [against the Titans]. Yes, we’ve got to give him the ball more.”
The most snaps Watson and Doubs played together in a game this season is 15. It happened twice, in Week 1 against the Vikings and Week 4 against the Patriots. The other four times they’ve played together, it has been for one, two, nine and 10 snaps.
The Packers did not put Doubs on injured reserve after the Lions game because they hoped he could return in less than a month. LaFleur said after last week’s loss to the Titans Doubs is getting closer to a return, but he wasn’t ready to declare him back for this Sunday’s game against the 9-1 Eagles (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
It might not be just Watson and Doubs who the Packers want to see together more often. Their third rookie receiver, seventh-round pick Samori Toure, could be in line for more snaps.
“I think he’s another guy that we’ve got to definitely rotate into the mix a little bit more,” LaFleur said.