Rookie wide receiver Christian Watson exploded for 3 huge touchdowns last week in the Packers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys, and he was named NFL Rookie of the Week as a result. Given the Tennessee Titans’ issues defending the ball deep, there’s at least a chance we’ll be back for a repeat performance. But let’s not be in too much of a rush.
Rookies, especially good ones, pop up every once in a while, but the issue tends to be much more about consistency, and a disappointing follow-up wouldn’t be unusual. Dreaming about Watson is fun, but we should probably temper our expectations, especially given the history of games AFTER the escape game. For instance:
Escape: September 10e1978, against New Orleans
Stat Line: 3 catches, 107 yards, 3 TDs
Lofton burst almost immediately, carrying 3 of David Whitehurst’s 10 completions for 107 yards and a touchdown as the Packers knocked out Archie Manning and the Saints in Week 2. Peyton and Eli’s dad completed 33 of 53 attempts but for only 303 yards and a score. For the Packers, Whitehurst was buoyed by a solid rushing offense from Terdell Middleton and Barty Smith, and he made his 10 completions count as 4 of them found dirt to pay off.
Lofton would come down to earth a bit the following week against the Raiders, catching 4 balls, but for just 56 yards and no score in a 28-3 loss. That said, he wouldn’t stick around long as he would put in strong performances against the Bears, Seahawks, Rams and Bears once again. Although he wasn’t a dominant force in every game, the breakout was real for the future Hall of Famer.
Escape: September 25e1988
Stat Line: 7 catches, 137 yards, 0 TDs
Prior to his Week 4 breakout against the Bears in a 24-6 loss, Sharpe had just one reception for 15 total yards. After the Bears game, he was still a target monster, averaging 4 catches and 60 yards per game, and finishing the season on an absolute tear.
The week after his breakout, a 27-24 loss to Tampa, he managed to catch 6 balls, but for just 70 yards as the Bucs mostly held him in check. Still, it should be noted that Sharpe was essentially a non-factor prior to his breakout and was most definitely a factor, if inconsistent, every week thereafter aside from a 0-catch performance against Buffalo during Week 9. Still, there was a major downgrade in the few weeks immediately after the big game, and it would take until Week 12 against the Lions for Sharpe to have another game resembling his breakout performance. One of the weirdest things about Sharpe’s rookie season is how little he found in the end zone, scoring just one touchdown against the Lions in Week 14.
Escape: September 24e2006
Stat Line: 3 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD
Some might quibble that Jennings actually broke out the previous week against New Orleans with a 12-target, 6-catch, 67-yard performance where he capped the Packers’ first drive with a 22-yard touchdown. That’s a good point, but the following week in a win over the Lions, Jennings scored a 75-yard electric touchdown on Green Bay’s second drive, which I think caught the attention of everybody.
Jennings’ escape was destined from the moment he was drafted, as the team nurtured the rookie like no other receiver. Jennings has only caught 45 balls this season, but on a ridiculous 105 attempts. He was not effective, to say the least, and he never caught more than 50% of his passes in a game where he had more than 10 targets. Against the Patriots and in Game 2 for the Vikings, he combined to catch just 2 of 21 targets. But when Jennings was on, he was an absolute weapon, and he followed up his breakout with a 5-catch, 86-yard effort in a loss to the Eagles, then a 5-catch, 105-yard, 1 TD game in a tight defeat against the Rams. Jennings is the rare example who managed to land several great performances in a row before collapsing a bit in the second half. If you’re bullish on Watson to repeat, Jennings is a great example of why it’s possible.
Jennings had his ups and downs, sure, and some of the downs were really ugly, but the breakout was real and almost immediate.
Escape: October 29e2007
Stat Line: 3 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD
Some might also quibble with this one, and with good reason. Jones was an extremely productive rookie in his very first game in which he had 8 targets, catching 4 for 29 yards, but that decisive game against Denver, in which Jones scored a 79-yard touchdown that would prove to be the difference in a 19 -13 win, truly heralded his arrival. This game was also memorable because it comes from a simpler time when Jay Cutler looked set to set the world on fire for the Broncos, but after Denver evened things up on a last-second field goal, Brett Favre hit Greg Jennings for an 82 yard. score on the first play of overtime. Jay, by the way, didn’t throw a pickaxe.
The following week, a 33-22 win over the Chiefs, Jones had just 3 catches for 32 yards, and while he put up some great performances against the Vikings and Lions in the aftermath, he didn’t never really approached this level of production. again as a rookie, even posting a few goose eggs against Oakland and Chicago.
Jones would have a prolific rookie season overall, and although he never managed to smash 1,000 yards for the Pack, he once led the league in touchdowns and always had a knack for finding the end zone. .
Escape: November 30e2014
Stat Line: 6 catches, 121 yards
Adams himself had a good game earlier in the season against New Orleans, but I think everyone remembers that game as his real breakthrough. The Packers beat a very good team from the Patriots and Bill Belichick, thanks to a great game plan from McCarthy, Jordy Nelson toasting Darelle Revis just before halftime and a career-best performance from youngster Davante Adams. Adams had catches for 45 and 33 yards, as well as a big 17 yards in the 4e to set up a Mason Crosby field goal, as he led the team in yards and targets.
Unfortunately, Adams was unable to maintain that momentum as he would follow that performance with two consecutive 1-catch performances from 6 yards, as injuries limited his effectiveness in the streak. Fortunately, he reappeared, in a colossal way, against Dallas in the playoffs, capturing 7 balls for 117 yards and a touchdown, before disappearing during the NFC Championship game against Seattle, but we are not talking about that.
Adams was very up and down as a rookie, and really sophomore too, but he flashed frequently, including in a few really big moments.
Breakout performance is an outlier by its very nature, and having a lackluster tracking game is the norm. If Watson disappoints on Thursday, that shouldn’t be so surprising. More importantly, it doesn’t really matter for his long-term prospects. Davante Adams was horrible after his big breakout, but he not only turned the tide for the first playoff game, but became one of the greatest receivers in franchise history. Evasions, more than anything, show the players ceiling. They might not be able to put everything together every week, at least for a while, but you can see what a great performance can look like. After that, it’s just a matter of how often they can perform.
Only 20 players in Packer history have managed to even have an 80+ yard receiving game as a rookie. Most of them – like Davante Adams, Don Hutson, Boyd Dowler, Sterling Sharpe, James Lofton, Max McGee, Billy Howton and Greg Jennings – are great Packers in some degree. There are a few random one-timers like Geronimo Allison, Ray Pelfrey, running back LeShon Johnson, Jeff Query and Clive Rush who make the roster, but for the most part receivers who do what Watson did are no worse. than average, with a high probability of being slightly better. It might not happen right away.