GREEN BAY, Wis. — North Dakota State’s Christian Watson will try to continue the Green Bay Packers' second-round success with wide receivers.
The Packers traded up 19 spots to take Watson with the 34th overall selection in the NFL draft Friday as they seek more targets for reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers now that All-Pro receiver Davante Adams is gone.
“Obviously being able to catch passes from one of the best to ever do it is something I’m definitely excited about,” Watson said. "I feel like I’m going to be able to learn and grow a lot through not just him but all the other receivers and everyone else in the organization as well. I definitely couldn’t be more excited to go at it with Aaron Rodgers.”
Green Bay opened the day with two second round picks – the No. 53 and No. 59 picks. The Packers traded both to the Minnesota Vikings for the right to take Watson at No. 34. They still had a third-round pick later Friday.
Although the Packers haven’t selected a wide receiver in the first round since taking Florida State’s Javon Walker 20th overall in 2002, they’ve developed a knack over the last couple of decades for finding wideouts in the second round.
One of those guys was Adams, who went 53rd overall in 2014 out of Fresno State and earned All-Pro honors each of the last two seasons . The Packers traded Adams to the Raiders last month in a deal that brought them the 22nd and 53rd overall picks in this year’s draft.
Other receivers to have productive seasons in Green Bay after getting drafted in the second round include Greg Jennings (2006), Jordy Nelson (2008) and Randall Cobb (2011).
“We’ve had a lot of success with second- and third-round receivers in Green Bay,” Rodgers said Thursday night on Pat McAfee’s SiriuxXM and YouTube show after the Packers didn’t take a receiver in the first round. “You look at Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones in the third round (in 2007), obviously Davante Adams in the second round. Those guys turned out pretty good.”
The Packers believe Watson can be the next in line.
The 6-foot-4 wideout showed his explosiveness at North Dakota State by gaining 20-plus yards on nearly one-third of his 180 career rushing, receiving and return attempts. North Dakota State won Football Championship Subdivision titles in four of his five seasons at the school, including one redshirt year.
His kick return ability also could shore up Green Bay's special teams, the Packers' biggest weakness last season.
“As fast as he is and his length and his stride, any type of a vertical route, that sort of stuff, it’s exponential what he could ultimately do for our offense that way,” Packers director of football operations Milt Hendrickson said.
While Watkins' physical skills are obvious, he didn't put up overwhelming numbers. His 43 catches for 801 yards and seven touchdowns last season represented career highs in all three categories.
“I don’t think it was for a lack of anything that Christian did or didn’t do,” Hendrickson said. “If you’re familiar with NDSU, they love to run the football. His opportunities will come and go sometimes.”
Watson has family ties to the Packers organization.
The Packers drafted his father, former Howard defensive back Tim Watson, in the sixth round in 1993. Watson never actually played for the Packers in an NFL career that included stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles
“Being able to follow in his footsteps and be drafted by the same club is extra special to me for sure,” Watson said. “It’s definitely a surreal experience. Just getting the phone call itself brought tears in my eyes, I was so excited.”
Wide receiver was a major need for the Packers that got exacerbated by Adams’ exit.
Green Bay lost two other wideouts to free agency when Marquez Valdes-Scantling joined the Kansas City Chiefs and Equanimeous St. Brown signed with the Chicago Bears, though the Packers did add veteran receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Packers’ top returning receiver is Allen Lazard, who had 40 catches for 513 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
On Thursday, Green Bay focused on defense in the first round by taking a pair of Georgia teammates, using the 22nd overall selection on linebacker Quay Walker and taking tackle Devonte Wyatt at No. 28.