I was not a bit surprised that the Packers didn’t draft a receiver in the first round. Especially after six of them were taken within the top eighteen picks. I was stunned, however, to see them trade both of their second round selections to move up to number 34 to take Christian Watson. That seemed like a very high price to pay.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as excited as many fellow Green Bay fans to see what Watson can become. But I can’t help wondering if the team would have been better off staying at numbers 53 and 59 in that second round. Watson would almost certainly have been gone by then. No doubt Brian Gutekunst knew this, else he would not have made the trade. But there were other talented pass catchers that would have still been on the board. One that I had a bit of a pre-draft crush on was Alec Pierce out of Cincinnati.
In fact, Pierce was actually taken (by the Colts) with the number 53 pick that Green Bay had traded away. So it’s going to be interesting to follow the careers of both Watson and Pierce to see who develops and contributes quicker, and who goes on to have the better career.
The statistics and measurables for both players are comparable. Watson is 6-4, 211 lbs. Pierce is 6-3 and 208. Watson ran a 4.36 forty, Pierce turned in a 4.41. Watson averaged 18.6 yards per catch, compared to 17.34 for Pierce. Neither player produced what you would call eye-popping stats in their final year of college. Pierce caught 54 passes for 901 yards and 8 touchdowns in 14 games. Watson reeled in 43 throws for 801 yards and seven scores in 12 games.
Watching highlight reels of both players, they exhibit much the same talent. Both have the speed to be a field stretcher, and the height and athleticism to go up and win contested catches. There are a couple of differences that beg notice. One is North Dakota State’s use of Watson as an occasional rusher in the jet sweep and otherwise. In his senior year, Watson carried the ball 15 times for 114 yards and one touchdown. Pierce was not used as a rusher by Cincinnati.
The other area was kick returns. Watson returned 18 kickoffs, two of them went for touchdowns. I couldn’t find any record of Pierce returning kicks in college, although there was mention of his playing on special teams.
Taken at face value, Watson seems to be a slightly better and more versatile prospect than Pierce, but two things make me wonder if the Packers made the right decision. First of all, Watson accrued all of his accomplishments against the likes of Towson, Albany and Northern Iowa. He is completely untested against major college competition. It should be noted, however, that North Dakota State dominates the FCS level of football, and won the national championship with Watson last fall. Pierce, by contrast, competed against the big boys, teams like Michigan, Notre Dame and Alabama. He was part of a Bearcat team that went all the way to the national semi-finals.
The other thing that makes me scratch my head is this: If Christian Watson is that good, good enough to be worth two second round picks, why would the Minnesota Vikings, of all teams, trade with the Packers to allow Green Bay to move up and get Him? Surely the Vikings knew their arch rivals were desperate at the receiver. Surely they knew the Packers had not taken one in the first round. And surely they knew Watson was still on the board. Did they know something about Watson that Green Bay didn’t? Clearly, the Vikings did not have Watson graded as highly as the Packers did.
Had the Packers not made the trade to move up, they would have retained their other second round selection at number 59. Among the players still on the board at that spot, was safety Bryan Cook, ironically also out of Cincinnati. He is a highly regarded prospect who would have provided the Pack with some much needed depth at safety. Cook was taken three picks later by Kansas City.
So did the Packers make the right move? The CHTV draft guide screams a resounding “yes”. In his breakdown of receiver prospects, Ross Uglem ranks Christian Watson as the number two pass catcher overall. Alec Pierce is ranked no better than thirteenth. Others don’t rate Watson that high overall, but agree on the comparison. CBSsports.com ranks Watson 8th and Pierce 18th. NFL.com had Watson 6th and Pierce 14th. You get the idea.
The question is not so much, is Pierce a better player than Watson. The question is whether Pierce AND another second round pick would have served the team better than Watson.
We’ll never know, and probably shouldn’t care. But just out of curiosity, I’ll be taking note of how the two fare in their careers. It will make for interesting retrospection one day.