After a demoralizing 42-24 loss to Washington on November 20 last season, the Green Bay Packers were 4-6 and on the outside looking in at the playoff race. With a defense collapsing, it looked as if the rest of the season may be a series of trial and error to find which pieces of the unit were long-term solutions for the organization. It was at this time that this author believed it was time to give rookie undrafted cornerbacks Makinton Dorleant and Josh Hawkins a chance at meaningful snaps.
Hawkins, the former East Carolina Pirate, earned a roster spot after a strong rookie preseason showing in 2016 in which he intercepted a pair of passes. He appeared in 12 games for the Green and Gold as a special teams standout but played sparingly on the defensive side of the ball with just eight snaps. Perhaps part of the reason for Hawkins’ low snap count was a miserable play in week three against the Detroit Lions, when the rookie allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones and failed to finish the play as Jones skirted toward the end zone.
Although the defense was in disarray, injuries were mounting, and outside corner fill-in LaDarius Gunter was inconsistent in the latter half of the year, Green Bay seemed reluctant to give Hawkins meaningful playing time again until a 15-snap effort against the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional playoff round. Even then, Packers fans didn’t get to see enough live action from Hawkins to accurately gauge his ability.
While the 2017 regular season is just two weeks in, the Packers find themselves in an all-too-familiar spot at the cornerback position. This time around, will Green Bay give Hawkins an opportunity to help solve some of its woes on the boundary?
At 5-foot-10 1/2, Hawkins is not a corner with daunting size. However, his athleticism more than makes up for the lost height. “Little Sam Shields” boasted incredible measurables at his pro day with a 4.39 forty-yard dash and a 40.5” vertical leap. With a 7.22 second three-cone drill, there are some questions about Hawkins’ change of direction ability, but a 4.09-second short shuttle time hovered around the top quarter of all cornerbacks in the 2016 draft class and suggests the second-year pro can move very well laterally.
When Green Bay inserted Hawkins into the secondary rotation against Dallas, he was used at the right outside cornerback position. While Davon House has provided a much-needed level of stability at one outside spot, the other is in dire need of reliability. Mike McCarthy hinted this week that rookie second round pick Kevin King will have increased opportunities in upcoming weeks, but behind King, Green Bay is running out of options.
With nine interceptions in college and two last preseason, Hawkins has shown glimpses of filling that void and creating turnovers. Against Washington in the preseason, he lined up as a starter on the outside across from the likes of Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson, in addition to facing the speedy Jameson Crowder in the slot. Quickly, Hawkins caught the attention of fans by providing a sure tackle near the sideline on an opening third down play and breaking up a sure touchdown pass in the end zone a series later. Mike McCarthy called Hawkins the highest-graded cornerback that evening after he totaled five tackles and three pass breakups.
Muy buenas sensaciones las que dejó Josh Hawkins (undrafted 2016) anoche. Me gusta su dureza en el tackle, algo que no es muy normal... pic.twitter.com/Xa4B3SfiBo— Ruben Ibeas Garcia (@Rubenibg) August 20, 2017
Green Bay has lacked reliable tackling and tight coverage from its cornerbacks thus far. APC’s own Peter Bukowski noted this week that Quentin Rollins has struggled mightily in the slot, allowing 10 completions in 10 passes thrown his way. Against Atlanta, Damarious Randall didn’t look much better on the outside, as receivers routinely twisted and turned him around; he has allowed eight completions in 12 attempts. Not only have each of these corners struggled to defend the pass, they’ve been poor tacklers, routinely whiffing when trying to take out the legs of ballcarriers. Instead of continuing to wait on the duo of third-year players to improve, it is time to find alternatives in Green Bay’s secondary.
And no, as one tweeter suggested this week, that does not include Darrelle Revis or Asante Samuel, (gasp!) who hasn’t played since 2013.
With Hawkins in his second year with the Packers’ defensive system and the team desperately needing boundary depth, he seems like a logical choice. Maybe there is a reason Green Bay hasn’t given Hawkins significant playing experience - after all, the media only sees a limited amount of practice. But with a performance like he had in Washington, there’s optimism that Hawkins can help this team.
It’s time for Hawkins to suit up. He can’t be left inactive, as he was in week one, any longer.