The Green Bay Packers’ trade of cornerback Damarious Randall came as a surprise to fans of the team and those who follow the franchise closely. Although that surprise has worn off somewhat — helped in some part by a better understanding of the issues between him and the team — it still leaves a few massive questions that must be answered.
The big issues, of course, revolve around a lack of depth at the cornerback position. Without a big improvement in draft position as a result of the trade — the Packers moved up just 13 picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds — the team must ensure that it hits on the inevitable acquisitions for that room. Joe Whitt, Jr.’s developmental skills as defensive passing game coordinator will be put to the test, as will those of new secondary coach Jason Simmons.
However, the person with the most on the line with this trade is of course general manager Brian Gutekunst. It was his first significant transaction as GM, and if he fails to successfully restock the cornerback position with talent over the next two months, the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will matter little. This move creates a personnel void at corner that did not exist before Friday, and the responsibility is all on Gutekunst to fill that void.
The other massive question revolves around the player coming back to Green Bay in the deal with the Cleveland Browns: quarterback DeShone Kizer. Gutekunst is placing heavy faith in his offensive coaches to make it worthwhile for the Packers to have acquired Kizer instead of better draft capital.
Here’s what the Packers’ likely plan looks like to account for the challenges that this trade presents on the roster and to actually improve the team for 2018 and beyond.
Bolster the CB room in free agency
This year’s free agent cornerback class has both star power and depth. The big names are Malcolm Butler and Trumaine Johnson; you can also add Richard Sherman to that list now that the Seahawks officially released him. APC’s Peter Bukowski discussed Butler a month ago, and with the Packers’ need becoming even more acute in the last 24 hours, a match there could make even more sense. However, Butler’s physical testing from his Pro Day in 2014 does not meet the Packers’ traditional athletic thresholds (more on that later).
As for Sherman, the Packers are one of the teams who have shown early interest in him, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. However, Sherman’s first visit is with the San Francisco 49ers, who are the early leaders for his services if his torn Achilles appears to be healing well.
Outside of those players, there are bargains to be found as well. Players like Aaron Colvin and Ross Cockrell are likely to earn mid-level deals but could be critical veteran pieces for a young secondary. Cockrell was a part-time starter for the New York Giants last season, intercepting three passes, and he has double-digit pass breakups in each of the past three years — including the 2016 season, when he started all 16 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, Aaron Colvin has spent the last few years as the Jaguars’ third corner and failed to record an interception, but was graded out very highly by Pro Football Focus and has posted some excellent coverage statistics. Keep an eye on Buffalo’s E.J. Gaines, Indianapolis’ Rashaan Melvin, and Cincinnati’s Darqueze Dennard as other mid-level options.
Draft multiple quality cornerbacks
Of course, the Packers have always been a draft-and-develop team under Ted Thompson, and that core tenet of the team’s philosophy will still remain true with Gutekunst at the helm. There are a number of intriguing players who fit the Packers’ athletic thresholds and who may be available at all levels of the draft. If we look at the thresholds identified by Justis Mosqueda last season and expand that a bit with knowledge gained over the years about the Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson system, we can see which players would be good fits on the Packers’ draft board. Those cutoffs would roughly consist of a minimum height of 5’10-5/8”, a 3-cone time of 6.90 seconds or less, and a 40 time of 4.57 seconds or less.
In round one, keep an eye on Ohio State’s Denzel Ward or Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Both hit the cutoffs in each category but one, and that exception is only because Ward did not run the 3-cone at the 2018 Combine. Expect him to hit the 6.90 number with ease at the Buckeyes’ Pro Day. Jackson’s speed is somewhat of a question, running the 40 in 4.56, but the Packers have drafted slower corners in the past — Casey Hayward ran the 40 in 4.57 back in 2012.
As for second-day picks, the two I’m watching most closely are Isaiah Oliver of Colorado and Alabama’s Tony Brown. Oliver’s a big and reasonably fast corner, and his 3-cone time at the Buffaloes’ Pro Day (6.94) was just off the 6.9 cutoff. He also has impressive 33-1/2” arms. Brown, meanwhile, hits all the marks with his Combine workout and appears to be climbing draft boards. His 4.35 40 is faster than any current Packers corner (Josh Hawkins ran 4.39 at his Pro Day in 2016), though he posted a poor vertical (31.5”, 6th percentile).
As for third day prospects, Holton Hill from Texas and San Jose State’s Andre Chachere both hit the marks based on their Combine testing and could be intriguing developmental players. Hill recorded three interceptions for the Longhorns, returning all three for touchdowns, while Chachere had a huge year as a junior with four picks, 14 pass defenses, and two forced fumbles.
Develop Kizer into a potential starter
While not the most critical item for 2018, as Brett Hundley remains under contract, Kizer’s success in Green Bay will help define how this trade is viewed in the long term. Kizer will almost certainly be on the roster this season — either beating out Hundley for the #2 job or serving as the #3 — but his long-term development is the key here.
Mike McCarthy and company need to develop Kizer into a very good backup quarterback at the very least, and he must be able to assume that mantle quickly. With the 34-year-old Aaron Rodgers discussing playing into his 40s, however, it remains unlikely that Kizer is viewed as Rodgers’ eventual replacement by the personnel department. However, he needs to become the player that Packers fans hoped Hundley would be: one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league and a player whom the Packers could spin off for a day-two draft pick down the road.