Receivers were flying all over the place on Day 1 of the NFL draft, but somehow none of them ended up in Brian Gutekunst’s hands. Much to Twitter’s dismay, Gutekunst added a pair of Georgia defenders, Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt, with the Green Bay Packers’ two first-round picks.
On Thursday, the Packers didn’t snap the streak of 20 years without drafting a first-round receiver. Apparently, it wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Aaron Rodgers said they had first-round grades on six wideouts, but all were gone by the teens. Marquise Brown also told Christopher Russo that Green Bay “made a play towards the end” of the night before the Baltimore Ravens dealt him to the Arizona Cardinals. Everything seemed to be shaping up for the Packers to make their move early on Day 2.
We certainly didn’t have to wait long to see Aaron Jones and his green-and-gold sombrero at the podium Friday afternoon. The Packers flew up to the 34th-overall slot to select Christian Watson out of North Dakota State. Gutekunst cut a deal with a division rival to land Rodgers’ newest target, handing new Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah the 53rd and 59th picks. According to any trade value chart, Green Bay overpaid. But as director of football operations Milt Hendrickson put it, “If you love a player, you just find a way to get him.”
Watson has some of the best measurables of any player in the draft, standing at 6’4”, 208 lbs., with a blazing 4.36 40 time. He can stretch the field and certainly fits the criteria of the “legit” guy Matt LaFleur alluded to at league meetings last month. His height, weight, and speed ostensibly set him up to assume the role of the departed Marquez Valdes-Scantling. MVS arrived in Green Bay with almost the exact same numbers four years ago.
Despite testing as the perfect wideout, Watson comes with some minor red flags that prevented him from landing in Round 1. His hands have been an issue. He dropped 16 passes compared to 105 total receptions at NDSU, and a scout remarked that he “doesn’t look natural” catching the ball. In addition, his production against FCS opponents wasn’t quite what you’d hope. He went for 800 yards and seven touchdowns last season. However, the Bison’s run-heavy offense explains at least some of that.
Watson joins Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb in a receiver room that still needs work between now and September. Still, it looks a lot more promising than it did a couple of days ago. On what he’ll tell Rodgers, Watson said, “I’m ready to get to work, I’m ready to learn, and I’m ready to get after it. I know he’s gonna be tough on me, and that’s exactly what I want.” Interestingly, he’s not the first in his family to get the call from Green Bay. His father, Tim Watson, was selected by the Packers in 1993.
If you look closely, though, you’ll see that the Packers also added some depth to the offensive line. They selected Sean Rhyan out of UCLA at No. 92. Following Billy Turner’s release, there is a hole on the right side of the line. With Elgton Jenkins rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered late last season, who will step into that role remains to be seen. Rhyan was a three-year starter at left tackle for the Bruins, but his size and length make him better suited to compete with last year’s pick, Royce Newman, at guard. He does not have elite physical traits. However, his motor, reliability, and experience make him a player capable of meaningfully contributing right away.
So the book is officially closed on the Davante Adams trade – the star wideout was dealt along with a second-rounder, in effect, for Quay Walker and Christian Watson. Recouping Adams’ 1,500+ yards of production is sure to be a group effort. Don’t forget, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. remain on the open market.
Given the holes that opened up on the offensive end in the offseason’s early days, it was absolutely the Day 2 that the Packers needed, even if it probably won’t be a sufficient fix on its own. Watson has more potential than almost any player in this draft. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to say the same about Matt LaFleur’s offense once the dust is settled.