In the latest installment of our Post-Draft Roster Breakdown series, we have decided to assess where the Green Bay Packers stand at cornerback. We try to project the depth chart and review each player's overall chances at making the roster.
Micah Hyde (5th round, Iowa)
Like many Iowa corners before him, Hyde was a productive college defender who may not possess the speed for the position in the pros. Normally, that would lead to the player switching to safety. While the 6-0, 197 Hyde certainly has the requisite frame, he was repeatedly burned during a brief stint away from corner. Now retired Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker experimented with Hyde as a safety his junior year. The results were so discouraging that Hyde was quickly returned to corner and the switch was never again attempted. If those results are truly indicative of his ability at safety, Hyde may be a man without a position in the NFL. Such has also been the case for new teammate Jarrett Bush. Like Bush, Hyde may need to find a niche on special teams in order to stick around. With Bush set to nearly $1.8 million in 2013 and over $2 million the year after, Hyde could steal his spot if he can provide similar production on special teams.
Devin Willis (UDFA, Northern Arizona)
Willis took part in both Northern Arizona's pro day and a regional combine. Somewhere along the way, he impressed a Packers scout enough to earn him an invite to training camp. He's a real long shot to make the team, though. Not only is he behind five returning corners, but the Packers spent a 5th round pick on the aforementioned Hyde.
Damond Smith (UDFA, South Alabama)
Like Willis, Smith must navigate a difficult path in order to make Green Bay's roster. But before that can even be considered, Smith has to pass a tryout. Assuming he does, there may be some hope for the former Jaguar. Smith started as a true freshman for South Alabama, a rare accomplishment even at the lower rungs of Division I. Smith is a big, physical corner with decent ball skills not too dissimilar to former Packer Brandian Ross. The odds are still stacked against him, however, as there won't be too many opportunities for Smith to stand out.
Loyce Means (FA, CFL)
This is Mean's second shot at the NFL. Back in 2011, Buffalo signed the former Houston corner but released him in the final cut down. He spent the rest of the season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. He impressed Green Bay's coaching staff by running a 4.4 40-yard dash at a recent workout. Coupled with his 5-10, 190 frame, Means has the physical assets required of an NFL corner. However, his best chance at making the Packers in 2013 involves becoming an ace on special teams. If he can find a way to outperform Bush, the Packers may prefer to go with the younger, cheaper Means.
Considerable criticism has been laid at the feet of Tramon Williams the past two years, much of it unwarranted. While his 2011 campaign was largely uneven, Williams was playing with significant nerve damage in his shoulder. The problem persisted into last season, but Williams improved his play. He may never return to his 2010 form, but Williams remains a solid and reliable cover corner.
Hayward was the breakout star on the defense in 2012. Not only was he Pro Football Focus' Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Hayward's performance bettered all the other cornerbacks on Green Bay's roster. Playing mostly from the slot, Hayward led the team in interceptions (6) and defensive completion percentage (44.6%). Hayward's role should grow over the next few seasons, but as Green Bay plays mostly in nickel and sub packages, he'll continue to play primarily in the slot.
After an awful 2011 season that left many wondering if he'd even make the team, Shield put together a remarkable 2012. Shields all world speed combined with his newfound tackling prowess made him the Packers' best outside corner last year. Green Bay gambled by tendering him only at the second round level, but it paid off. The Packers now have a one year window to work out a long term extension with the talented corner. With Hayward emerging and Williams perhaps on the backside of his career, Shields will be a vital part of the Packers' defense in 2013 and beyond.
Lost in the emergence of Hayward and the rebirth of Shields was Davon House's development. Remember, prior to injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game of 2012, House was the favorite to start opposite Tramon Williams in the base defense. House wasn't the same after the injury, but he's reported healthy again and could make another run at a starting spot. While not a speedster like Shields or a ball hawk like Hayward, House is a physical, powerful cornerback who adds some oomph to the defensive backfield. House's best case scenario for 2013 is Shields and Hayward winning positions in the base defense with House taking over for Hayward when he shifts into the slot in the nickel.
For years, Bush has been the most reviled player on the Packers' roster. While he's never displayed aptitude for corner or safety, Bush is a valuable special teams contributor who does a lot of unnoticed dirty work. This may be the year Bush is given a run for his money, as the aforementioned Hyde possesses a similar skill set and a smaller contract. Expect Bush to win it out, but this will be an interesting preseason battle.
If you're wondering why a name you've never heard of is appearing under veterans, it's because Nixon spent most of last year quietly on the Packers' practice squad. Nixon also called Arizona home for a brief spell during the 2012 preseason. His best shot at making the team is as a kick returner where he averaged 25.8 yards per return for California (Pa.).
Projected Depth Chart
LCB: Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, Micah Hyde, Devin Willis
RCB: Sam Shields, Davon House, James Nixon, Damond Smith
Slot: Casey Hayward
As the Packers play mostly in the nickel and sub packages, expect to see much of Williams and Shields in their same positions from last year with Hayward again manning the slot. Davon House will be the first guy up if there's an injury. Beyond that, keep an eye on Micah Hyde as he pushes Jarrett Bush for a roster spot.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn