When the Green Bay Packers left the 2018 NFL Draft with Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson as their top two selections, it was an all-too-common attempt from the team to find reliable starting cornerbacks. But, unless proven wrong by the conclusion of next season, that gamble looks to have been a good one.
Although Jackson experienced plenty of ups and downs in his first season, Alexander quickly became the defense’s top cover man and showed the potential to become a long-term star. The combined efforts of that duo, in addition to undrafted addition Tony Brown, provide enough promise for the position that a true cornerback should not be a priority with either of the Packers’ first round picks at the end of the month.
For many of the final Dom Capers years, the Packers prioritized a cornerback unit via the draft that was often visibly dissected on the field and never quite the same in Sam Shields’ absence. Green Bay ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed per game in 2016 (269.0) and 23rd in 2017 (237.0). Influenced by these statistics, the Packers have invested in at least one cornerback in the top two rounds of three of the past four years.
In addition to last year’s haul, the Packers added Kevin King in 2017 and Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in 2015 to alleviate the porous nature of the secondary. Despite King’s injury history of the past two seasons, the Packers still see him as a long-term piece to add into the mix of Alexander, Jackson, Brown, and veteran Tramon Williams. That rotation, along with the departed Bashaud Breeland, helped improve the Green Bay pass defense to 12th in 2018 (235.0). Even in the midst of the Packers striking out with Randall and Rollins, Green Bay is positioned much better for the future at cornerback now than it was five years ago.
The bolstered depth at corner does not mean that secondary help is unnecessary, however. Green Bay still is in need of pairing incoming safety Adrian Amos with a ball-hawking center fielder who can improve the Packers’ total of seven interceptions a season ago. A player in the mold of a Nasir Adderley or Chauncey Gardner-Johnson might be a great fit with one of the Packers’ first-day selections, while potentially offering slot corner value in some packages. While Green Bay’s corners have been inconsistent over the past several years, they often have been left on islands due to late-arriving safeties. Without a second player downfield to help break up the long pass, Green Bay’s corners have not only been placed at a disadvantage in defending the ball, they have also been unable to take risks. Increased support for the corners with a free safety addition might help an instinctive young player like Alexander create more turnovers.
A more steady crew of corners also provides ammunition to acquire further pass rush help. While the Packers’ struggles in the secondary were perhaps more noticeable, Green Bay’s issues up front gradually became more of a concern until reaching a breaking point in 2018. As the Packers continued to draft cover men, they neglected edge rushers, selecting the position just once (Kyler Fackrell) in the top three rounds since 2014. Despite adding two high-priced free agents this offseason, the Packers can actually assist their secondary further by increasing the number of quality sack artists available throughout the game.
Green Bay is in the unfamiliar position of not having to seek cornerback help out of desperation this draft season. This time around, they can further support that unit by drafting the influential positions around it.