Packers go offense with a pair of picks on Day 2 of the NFL Draft

GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst’s mouth said one thing but his actions said another.

The Green Bay Packers general manager said Thursday night — after not selecting a wide receiver in the first round — that he did not feel as though his team had to take one in the second or third round on Friday. But just minutes into the draft resuming, Gutekunst pulled the trigger on a big trade to move up 18 spots to select North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson with the 34th overall pick.

Watson checks all the boxes for a team needing to replace its only legit deep threat in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound Watson ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, posted a 38.5-inch vertical and had a broad jump of 136 inches at the NFL Combine last month. The first two numbers were in the top 6 for wide receivers at the combine, while the last figure was the best of any player.

“He’s a big, fast, physical receiver. We think his best football is ahead of him,” Gutekunst said. “We brought him in here for one of our (top) 30 visits, got a chance to spend a lot of time with them. Really smart kid that we feel will fit our culture. Obviously, he’s got really good tape, his athletic traits are off the chart and the more we got to know him as a person we just felt really good about him.”

In his four years with the Bison, Watson caught 105 passes for 2,140 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 20.4 yards per catch against FCS competition, overwhelming defensive backs with his size and athleticism. The Packers saw enough of him at the Senior Bowl against high-level competition to be satisfied that his play would translate. Watson himself said his trip to Mobile may have been the difference in him jumping to the top of the second round.

Meanwhile, some scouts were concerned about issues with drops but the club was not.

“I feel good about his hands. I mean there will be a transition time here like anything,” Gutekunst said. “I think we’ve all seen our young receivers who have very good hands, whether it was Davante (Adams) or James Jones go through some periods of drops just because it is a different game, but I’m not worried about that.”

To get up to take what ended up being the seventh wide receiver off the board, the Packers had to trade picks No. 53 and No. 59 to their division rivals in the Minnesota Vikings. But Gutekunst thought it necessary even if it gave more ammunition to another team in the NFC North.

“We liked him a lot, obviously. You don’t trade two premium picks to go get a guy (you don’t like),” Gutekunst said. “We kind of felt like if we wanted to have a shot at him, we were gonna have to do something.”

The pick adds Watson to a room that includes veterans Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and Allen Lazard, along with last year’s third-round pick in Amari Rodgers. If you think that group still feels a little incomplete, Gutekunst agrees with you. He certainly likes it but there is still a lot of time before a game must be played.

“I think, obviously, we’ve got a lot of new faces in there, so settled is probably not the word that I would use. I think there’s gonna be a lot between now and the first game (that will happen),” Gutekunst said. “I do really like the group but I wouldn’t say we’re settled, that’s for sure.”

After giving up those picks, the Packers had to wait for several hours before they came back on the clock at pick No. 92. With that one they went with UCLA offensive lineman Sean Rhyan. A multi-year starter at left tackle for the Bruins, Gutekunst believes he can play either outside or inside in the NFL.

The 6-foot-5, 314-pound Rhyan, like so many of the Packers picks, is one of the better athletes at his position, posting the best vertical (33.5 inches) of any lineman at the combine. He was also a very good rugby player as a youth, even qualifying to play for the high school feeder team to the United States’ Olympic team.

“Very consistent,” Gutekunst said of what stood out about Rhyan. “Pass pro and run blocking, very, very consistent. I thought he had some really good balance and flexibility for a man his size and the ability to play with leverage.

“All of these (linemen) we’re bringing in, there’s so much to learn in the NFL game. But we just thought his ability to kind of do some of the things we ask of our offensive linemen — being able to play outside (at tackle), play inside (at guard), being a good enough athlete to get out in some of the outside zone and run game stuff that we do. He can just kind of fit us, along with him having prototypical size.”

The Packers have now added a pair of defensive players on Day 1 and a couple offensive players on Day 2. They still own six more picks over the final four rounds of the draft that will get going Saturday morning in Las Vegas.