How Packers' Christian Watson is solving his hamstring issues

The Green Bay Packers hope wide receiver Christian Watson is over his hamstring injuries and can build upon his first two seasons, during which he averaged 15.0 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns in 23 games. Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the first time since he came into the league as a highly touted speed receiver in 2022, Christian Watson finally understands why recurring hamstring injuries have slowed him down.

More importantly, he now knows how to fix it.

While it's still a work in progress, the former second-round pick said this week that he has made significant progress toward ending the issue for good.

The key for Watson, he discovered, is symmetry. That was chief among the things he learned during eight hours of testing this offseason at the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health. Tests showed a muscle imbalance in his legs, which likely contributed to his problems. He has missed 11 games during his first two seasons, including eight last season, because of a pulled hamstring in his right leg.

"For me, it really was the asymmetry between the legs," Watson explained this week after an OTA practice. "It comes from a lot of things. Obviously, the issues I've had in the past with hamstrings, not fully recovering from those strength-wise. I've been attacking the strength side of it, trying to get that symmetry back and it's been huge for me. I feel really, really good. I gotta continue grinding at it."

Coach Matt LaFleur, passing game coordinator Jason Vrable and other staff members have raved all offseason about the progress Watson has made. But heretofore it had been behind closed doors -- until Tuesday, when Watson was a full participant in the first offseason practice that was open to media. Watson moved in and out of his breaks with explosiveness and without hesitation while he made several down-the-field catches during team and 7-on-7 work.

Not to say LaFleur and his staff are holding their collective breath on Watson's hamstring, but they know that nothing is certain when it comes to soft-tissue injuries. In addition to Watson's trip to UW -- cornerback Eric Stokes also went with Watson to have his hamstring injuries studied -- LaFleur wiped out the strength and conditioning staff and brought in Aaron Hill from the 49ers to coordinate a new group.

"Time will tell," LaFleur said. "Certainly you've got to get through the entire offseason [and] into training camp. There's a lot of volume in training camp, so we get through that, then we'll feel pretty good about it. Both he and Stokes look like they're probably in the best shape I've seen either one of them."

Still, there's more to do.

Shortly after Watson's visit to UW, which in 2021 was given a $4 million grant by the NFL to study the prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries, he had a 20% difference in muscle strength between his right and left legs. Now, he says it's between 8% and 10%.

"I was obviously a little bit down in my right leg [compared] to the left," Watson said. "One, it puts strain on the left side, and the left is going through a lot more. And then two, obviously when you're trying to be equal in power, it obviously puts a lot more stress on the one that's not as strong. So that's been the No. 1 thing for me because that leads to fatigue as well. It's a bad place to be, so obviously that's been my No. 1 goal to just kind of eliminate that."

Perfect symmetry is nearly impossible, but Watson said his goal is for his legs to be within 6% of each other.

"Obviously still working to get there," he said.

While the Packers may not have a true WR1, they're loaded with young talent at the position with Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Malik Heath, Bo Melton and others. None, however, has shown big-play potential on par with Watson.

With an average of 15.0 yards per catch over his first two seasons, only 13 receivers with at least 100 targets over that span have a higher yards per catch average.

No wonder quarterback Jordan Love said having a healthy Watson for an entire season would make a "huge difference" for the offense.

"That's the key, is trying to stay healthy throughout the season, so we can have him out there every game, which is something I know he's working hard on," Love said. "He's a difference-maker when he's out there. He's a playmaker. Just having all our weapons out there is key."