Welcome to the prediction section of the offseason. Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will present our overall roster predictions for the Green Bay Packers’ season-opening 53-man roster. Today, we continue with the Packers’ cornerbacks.
Last season, the Packers defense allowed a passer rating of 102, which was 31st overall in the entire league. It was heartbreaking to watch. The only team who ranked worse was Cleveland Browns, and that was by a very slim margin (102.2). The Packers were also sixth-worst in 20+ yards passes allowed (55), third in completion percentage allowed (67.8%), and third in yards per completion allowed (7.9).
Now, those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad defensive passing stats aren’t solely the secondary’s fault. A lack of a consistent pass rush and a poor defensive scheme didn’t help.
This is a new season with new potential for the Packers and their cornerbacks. Mike Pettine was brought in to coach up the defense, new rookie corners were drafted, and a familiar face was brought back to add a veteran presence.
The APC staff made a prediction for six corners to make the final 53-man roster. We’re expected to see a lot of nickel formations so keeping a healthy number of corners on the roster is essential.
Starters: Kevin King, Tramon Williams, Jaire Alexander
Before injuries sidelined Kevin King, there were signs of him becoming a legitimate WR1 cover-man — most notably early last season when he matched up against Julio Jones and was trusted to defend A.J. Green. King is a 6’3,” athletic corner who’s not afraid to stick his nose in on run support. Despite being sidelined with a shoulder injury, hopefully he’s still absorbed enough to make a second-year leap.
The aforementioned familiar face coming back to Green Bay is Tramon Williams. At age 35, Williams is coming back to Green Bay as a veteran presence after spending the past three seasons split between Cleveland and Arizona. During his eight years with the Pack, Williams collected 28 interceptions and was a vital cog to the pass defense that helped produce a Super Bowl. Pettine is already gushing about how valuable Williams is to the cornerback room:
“I can’t say enough as to what he brings to the DB room,” Pettine said. “As coaches we can only get a guy so far, whereas I think when they have a guy sitting next to them that’s played, that’s been through it, that knows how to prepare, that knows how to get through a long season.”
Rookie Jaire Alexander will be the third starting corner according to the APC staff predictions. Taking a position in the slot will be a good role for the young corner considering his size (5’10,” 196 lbs.) and his speed to keep up with shifty slot wide outs. While there were instances at Louisville where Alexander would get beat, a more disciplined approach will allow him to display his great ball skills more frequently.
This will be a departure from last year’s combo of Damarious Randall (717 snaps), Davon House (659 snaps) and Josh Hawkins (403 snaps) getting the lion’s share of the cornerback snaps for the Packer D. Actually writing that out makes me feel like it can only get better.
Reserves: Josh Jackson, Lenzy Pipkins, and Davon House
Josh Jackson was the second rookie the Packers drafted following Alexander. In several mock drafts leading up to the draft, several had Jackson going in the first-round to the Packers at the 14th pick. Jackson has the size and nose for takeaways to develop into another boundary corner that could eventually take over for Williams. During his last season at Iowa, Jackson grabbed eight interceptions and displayed big play potential. Jackson didn’t run well at the Combine, but apparently showed 4.4 speed at the Hawkeyes’ Pro Day. It’ll be exciting to see if Jackson can move into the starting lineup if he starts the season as a reserve.
Full disclosure, Lenzy Pipkins is an APC favorite. An undrafted free agent, Pipkins only started one game in Week 17, but his willingness to tackle during his limited playing time was endearing to fans who were looking for some life out of the injury-ravaged secondary. Pipkins can play inside and out, so that versatility should help his chances to make the final 53.
Davon House is another corner who left northeast Wisconsin and eventually came back home. He spent 2015 and 2016 in Jacksonville before coming back to Green Bay last season on a one-year deal. The Packers decided to lock House back into another one-year deal this season prior to drafting two rookie corners. House was on the field for 12 games last season and managed to defend 6 passes during that time.
Released: Herb Waters, Donatello Brown, Josh Hawkins, Demetri Goodson, Quentin Rollins
Rollins played 139 snaps last season and is the remaining corner from the 2015 draft that saw Randall and Rollins picked in back-to-back rounds by the Packers. Looks like the APC staff is projecting that that experiment is over. Waters has speed to develop into something and Hawkins put in a lot of snaps last season, but they’re predicted to be on the outside looking in.
Having two rookies at this position pushes a lot of players off the 53-man roster, but the cornerback position was in dire need of a revamp. Taking two swings at getting a starting-level corner from this past draft and a full Kevin King season is an upgrade from last year. It’ll be exciting to see what an infusion of new blood can do to impact the whole defense.