In 2019, the Green Bay Packers’ roster looks very different from how it appeared at the end of the 2018 season. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and a role on the team’s regular season 53-man roster. Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster.
When the Packers collapsed in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings last season, Mike McCarthy pointed directly at the injury to Kevin King as the reason. He said the defense didn’t respond well to King’s injury and what he meant was Davon House and Kentrell Brice played terribly from that point on.
In fairness to those two players, expecting them to play well above their heads en route to being useful NFL starters was a faulty premise fro the start. But it was too early to expect Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson to pick up all the slack, Tony Brown was still on the practice squad, and even he was also a rookie.
Green Bay enters 2019 feeling much better about the prospect of having to play without someone like King thanks to Alexander’s star turn, Jackson’s progress toward the end of last season, and Tramon Williams’ return to his rightful place in the cornerback room. Still, Mike Pettine’s defense will rely on King to be a legitimate boundary cornerback, one who can actually stay on the field. Between the top four cornerbacks, the Packers have the 17th, 33rd, and 45th picks in the draft from their years. That’s legitimate pedigree in the secondary with the veteran know-how of Williams slotted in.
The formula is simple: stay healthy, make progress, bank on the supreme talent of the top guys.
Starters: Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Tramon Williams
In King’s rookie season of 2017, the Packers threw him to the wolves against Julio Jones and A.J. Green in back-to-back weeks. Coincidentally, the flaw in only having Alexander as a useful cornerback much of last season with King out truly came to bear against Atlanta when Jaire struggled with the size and strength of Jones.
Combining them, assuming they can stay on the field together, provides the Packers with tremendous versatility in the secondary. Alexander’s twitch for players like Stefon Diggs and Brandin Cooks pairs nicely with King’s height and length against Jones, Michael Thomas, and Amari Cooper in the NFC.
Williams slots in, well ... in the slot, though we should expect to see Alexander take that role often when a team like the Vikings moves Diggs inside. When healthy, this looks to be a formidable, versatile starting group.
Backups: Josh Jackson, Tony Brown, Ka’Dar Hollman
It’s easy to forget now it was Jackson, not Alexander who shined last preseason and training camp with his instincts and ball skills. Once the season started though, Jackson struggled with confidence in his technique and missed opportunities we saw him make in college. The game appeared to slow down for him the last month of the season when he settled in and Green Bay needs to see a jump from him to truly unlock the potential of its three most talented cornerbacks.
Brown and Hollman provide options on the other end of the spectrum. Each are big, physical cornerbacks adept at playing in press man coverage. Brown exceeded expectations as an undrafted free agent, showing he’s the kind of flat out dog you need in an aggressive Mike Pettine defense. Progressing on the mental side would be his next step.
The sixth-round Hollman flashed in the spring with his ability to play press man. He struggles in other areas and lacks great ball skills, but he’s a confident corner who isn’t afraid to play physically. Whether or not he’ll actually be ready to play if injuries once again hit represents a significant question for this group.
Released: Will Redmond, Javian Hamilton, Chandon Sullivan, Nydair Rouse
Redmond’s path to making this team comes on special teams, where he played for the Packers last season. His best chance here, as with all the players in this group, is hoping for a practice squad run.
Sullivan started a game for the Eagles last year and played in five games, but injuries decimated that Philly secondary and they had to pull bodies out of the Wawa line.