Today is the last day of the last week before the start of the Green Bay Packers’ 2023 training camp, which means we at Acme Packing Company will wrap up our series on predicting the team’s initial 53-man roster. We have just two position groups left to go: the cornerback and specialists.
Let’s address the first of those two groups now to finish off the defense before focusing on Rich Bisaccia’s specialist unit. The Packers’ cornerbacks are led by one of the truly elite players at the position, a two-time All-Pro who reliably locks down wide receivers of every caliber. Opposite him is a player who had a good season in 2022 but who did not quite live up to the breakout he put up a year prior after his midseason acquisition.
It’s a solid group overall, one that could receive a midseason boost if Eric Stokes returns during the season. Stokes suffered a brutal injury partway through last year and is on the rehab trail, but we expect that he will still need several months to get back into playing shape. The cornerback group should be able to play well until his return, however.
The big questions for this group revolve around the depth players and what the Packers want to prioritize. Will they focus on special teams contributions and athleticism or familiarity within the defensive scheme? The preference there, and of course the players’ performances in camp and preseason games, should help determine who makes the team at the end of August.
Starters: Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas
The Packers have one truly elite cornerback in Alexander on one side and another solid starter opposite him in Douglas. Alexander was a second-team All-Pro for the second time in 2022, when he recorded five interceptions to match his career total from his first four NFL seasons. That was one off the league lead of six, while Alexander also allowed the lowest passer rating against of his career at 63.7. His 95 overall rating in Madden NFL 24 makes him the second-highest rated cornerback in this year’s game.
Meanwhile, Douglas,’ play slipped a bit from his breakout 2021 season; that year he allowed a minuscule 5.5 yards per target and a 44.5 passer rating; those numbers jumped up to 6.9 yards per target and an 88.5 rating in 2022, buoyed in part by allowing six touchdowns against his four interceptions. Douglas started the season in the slot, however, before moving back to his normal spot on the boundary when Eric Stokes suffered multiple injuries on one play against the Detroit Lions in week 9.
Backups: Keisean Nixon, Corey Ballentine, Carrington Valentine
The Packers will likely use Nixon as their primary slot cornerback to start the season while they await Stokes’ return from injury. Nixon played significant snaps on defense in six games over the course of the season, but also became the NFL’s first-team All-Pro kickoff returner thanks to his second-half surge on special teams.
Our expectation is that Ballentine returns for a second season in Green Bay as his demonstrated special teams acumen and his size give him a leg up on the likes of Shemar Jean-Charles. After his acquisition by the Packers early in the season, he started earning playing time in week 10 and earned double-digit special teams snaps in every game thereafter.
The Packers don’t like to cut rookie draft picks, but our bet is that the fifth cornerback spot comes down to a battle between 2021 5th-rounder Shemar Jean-Charles and Valentine, a 7th-round pick this spring. However, Valentine’s athletic ability (9.30 RAS, 4.44 40) and size (6’0” and 193 pounds) give him a big physical edge over Jean-Charles (5’10”, 184, 4.24 RAS). If Valentine looks like someone who can contribute on special teams while he develops as a cornerback, that athletic potential should keep him on the team.
PUP List: Eric Stokes
Given reports of his rehab in the spring, APC believes Stokes will start camp and the regular season on the PUP list, which would keep him out for the Packers’ first six games. Having suffered injuries to both his knee and foot in week 9, Stokes was unable to walk for the remainder of 2022, only finally being able to put weight on his injured knee and foot in January. That still projects for him to have a lengthy recovery ahead of him, so don’t expect him to return until midseason at the earliest.
Released: Tyrell Ford, William Hooper, Shemar Jean-Charles, Kiondre Thomas
The Packers have a couple of undrafted rookies fighting for practice squad spots, along with Thomas, who spent last season on that squad and will be in a battle for a reserve spot. Jean-Charles ends up getting cut in our prediction based largely on athletic limitations.