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McFeely: Watson's new QB is Aaron Rodgers; he can thank the Vikings

For the second straight day, Minnesota makes trade within NFC North that allows rival to draft a wide receiver

ChristianWatsonSenior.jpg
North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Christian Watson had five starting quarterbacks in four seasons at North Dakota State: Easton Stick, Trey Lance, Zeb Noland, Cam Miller and Quincy Patterson. Miller actually got two go-arounds. He replaced Noland as the starter late in the unfortunate 2021 spring FCS season, lost the starting job to Patterson that fall, then replaced Patterson late in the year.

Stick and Lance were terrific. Noland struggled. Miller looked overwhelmed as a true freshman in the spring, but much better in the fall. Patterson threw a beautiful deep ball, but wasn't so hot with the short and intermediate throws.

Call it a mixed bag during Watson's career in Fargo.

Watson's first quarterback in the NFL will be Aaron Rodgers. He is not a mixed bag. Athletically, at least.

Say what you will about the egocentric, selfish QB and his anti-vax disinformation views, he can still fling the football at age 38. And for a rookie like Watson, that's all that matters.

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The former NDSU receiver went early in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday night, after the Packers selected him with the 34th overall pick.

How the Packers got the 34th pick might someday be a story Minnesota Vikings fans tell their grandchildren.

Especially if Watson burns the Vikings a time or six during his career in Green Bay.

Green Bay moved up in the second round, positioning themselves to take Watson, by making a trade with their NFC North rival. The Vikings sent the No. 34 pick to the Packers in exchange for picks No. 53 and No. 59.

It was the second straight day the Vikings traded with a team inside their division, allowing their rival to snatch a coveted receiver. During Thursday's first round, Minnesota dealt the No. 12 pick to the Detroit Lions for the 32nd selection. The Lions used their pick to take Jameson Williams of Alabama.

The Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era didn't get off to a crackling start for Vikings fans.

It is a remarkable opportunity for Watson. Rodgers is a certain Hall of Famer and the Packers have a long record of turning receivers they didn't draft in the first round into stars. Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb. James Jones. Davante Adams.

Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur is one of the best in the NFL at maximizing his wide receiver talent. Adams had 115 catches for 1,374 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdown receptions in 2020. Last season, Adams went for 123 receptions for 1,553 and 11 TDs.

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And with Adams traded to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, Rodgers needs a No. 1 receiver.

In a radio interview Thursday, the quarterback soothed Packers fans after the team drafted two defensive players in the first round.

"I'm sure Packer nation will be wondering why we didn't take a receiver or trade up but at this point, you've just got to have some faith in the organization and faith that whoever we bring in tomorrow and the rest of this draft, I'm going to put in the time to make it work with those guys and we're going to find a way in Matt's offense to be successful — like we always have," Rodgers said.

"It's not going to be any different this year — we're going to be in the mix."

Green Bay director of football operations Milt Hendrickson heaped praise on NDSU's program in media interviews following Watson's selection, comparing it to a high-level FBS program like Georgia because the Bison win so much.

Hendrickson didn't see Watson being from an FCS program as a hindrance because of that.

"The first two words that come to mind with Christian are big and fast," Hendrickson said. "Throughout the process his size, speed and ability to be a playmaker stand out.

"He's the type of wide receiver you have to account for on every play because he is so fast. He's an imposing guy out there. He can stretch the field, he can work underneath and with the things he does I just think he is a really good fit for our offense."

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There will be little development time for Watson. He was drafted to play and contribute. The Packers need him now. Watson knows it and he's ready to learn from Rodgers.

"I'll say I'm ready to work, I'm ready to learn and I'm ready to get after it," Watson said. "I know he's going to be tough on me. And that's exactly what I want. I wanted someone who is going to push me and continue to push me to be the best possible player that I can be. And I know with him being one of the greatest, he's going to get everything out of me."

If it works, Watson will be a star.

Which will grate on Vikings fans, who saw their team make the deal that allowed the Packers to draft Watson. And, as division rivals, they'll have to see him twice a year.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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