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Packers 2021 Roster Preview: Jaire Alexander anchors a deep, diverse cornerback group

Did Green Bay stoke a fire under Kevin King?

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers report for training camp on July 27th, with the team’s first practice coming the next day. In the week leading up to camp, Acme Packing Company will break down the Packers’ 90-man roster and give our predictions for who will make the initial 53 at the end of camp. Seven APC contributors submitted their 53-man predictions, and we have combined those picks into our annual consolidated prediction.

Our look at the Packers’ roster continues on with the cornerbacks, which has quietly become the strength of the defense while the pass rush falters. That said, one glaring weakness at corner cost the Packers last season, and it will likely fall to a rookie to shore things up.

CBs on the 90-man roster

Kevin King

NFL Experience: 5th season
2020 Stats (11 games): 45 solo tackles, 57 combined tackles, 5 PDs, 0 INT, 1 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $1.929 million

Good gravy, did I not think I would be writing about Kevin King. We all know Kevin from his most recent stint of getting absolutely torched by Tom Brady and the Bucs receivers, which was the proverbial cherry on top of his worst season as a professional.

King was the polar opposite of Jaire Alexander, ranking 64th in success rate, 63rd in yards per pass, and not making up for any of his poor play down-to-down with any impact splash plays. King was once a phenom of an athlete, but constant leg injuries have sapped his speed and shiftiness, and even his height has deserted him, as he’s now struggling in the red zone. In addition to everything else, King is a poor fit for a defense featuring Alexander, as King prefers press man to Alexander’s excellence in zone. The two simply don’t complement each other, and any intelligent defensive coordinator is going to scheme to Alexander’s strengths.

King doesn’t cost that much, and he’s familiar with the Packers, but given that Mike Pettine has been replaced by Joe Barry, bringing him back was a strange decision. There was certainly better, cheaper talent available (like Bashaud Breeland), and while Eric Stokes will likely take over across from Alexander, the problem with having Kevin King on the team is that you may end up having to play him.

Jaire Alexander

NFL Experience: 4th season
2020 Stats (15 games): 40 solo tackles, 51 combined tackles, 13 PDs, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $3.834 million

What more can be said about Jaire Alexander? His talent has been on display since he was a rookie, but few Green Bay corners have ever had a season as good as his 2020 campaign. Usually a team’s best cover corner won’t face many targets as smart quarterbacks look to other options, but Jaire somehow led all members of the Packer secondary, facing 70 targets. Over those 70 targets, he had a 64% success rate, good for 3rd in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. He allowed a measly 4.5 yards per pass, good for second in the NFL. He may never put up lofty interception totals like Charles Woodson once did, but it’s also a different game than in Charles’ day, and Alexander’s ability to lock down a side (or a zone) is unparalleled.

Alexander is an absolute bargain this season, but if he isn’t extended, his fifth year option is expected to land somewhere north of $13 million. He’s worth every penny of that, and at just 24 years old, he should remain a dominant force for the foreseeable future. If he isn’t extended soon, the team is making a huge mistake. Guys like Alexander don’t come around often.

Chandon Sullivan

NFL Experience: 4th season
2020 Stats (16 games): 32 solo tackles, 41 combined tackles, 6 PDs, 1 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $2.133 million

Chandon started off struggling in the NFC Championship Game, but he rebounded and had a nice game overall, which was a nice microcosm for his good, but inconsistent season. His 6 yards per pass ranked 18th in all of football, and he also posted a healthy 56% success rate despite more than doubling his snap count from the previous season. That’s all fine and good, but he was also occasionally torched, and minor injuries would often sap his already lackluster speed to an unplayable level.

Sullivan is a game run defender, and while his straight line speed is lacking he posted elite explosion numbers which serve him well in the tight spaces of the slot. A better scheme would leave him less exposed to burners, and in outside coverage, and he can be a real contributor. Should he falter, rookie Shemar Jean-Charles is waiting in the wings, but Sullivan wasn’t a problem in 2020 and shouldn’t be one in 2021.

Josh Jackson

NFL Experience: 4th season
2020 Stats (12 games): 21 solo tackles, 26 combined tackles, 2 PDs, 0 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $1.991 million

Both Jackson and Alexander were high picks in the same draft class, and Jackson’s 10 PDs as a rookie gave everyone reason for optimism that the team had their corner duo of the future. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out, as Jackson’s lack of straight-line speed and overly physical nature more often result in long plays or PI penalties.

Jackson has the tools to be a solid physical corner, but he needs to get his technique under control, and that should have happened by now. He’s often discussed as a potential candidate for safety due to his style of play, and he is an excellent athlete outside of his 40 time, but for a guy who can’t stop mugging receivers, he’s surprisingly poor in run support. Jackson may stick around for 2021 simply because he’s young and cheap, but he’s also in a precarious position, and if any younger players show promise, he may very well be on his way out.

Ka’dar Hollman

NFL Experience: 3rd season
2020 Stats (15 games): 7 solo tackles, 10 combined tackles, 3 PDs, 0 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $894k

Hollman hasn’t seen much time outside of special teams, but when called into duty he has impressed, having allowed just 7 of 17 targets to be completed for an average of just 3.7 yards per target. Hollman was an outstanding athlete out of Toledo, but he remains raw entering his 3rd season which is why he was available in the 6th round of the 2019 draft. Still, he’s a burner, and if you squint, you can see some Sam Shields in his game.

Hollman’s potential and willingness to do grunt work will likely keep him on the team, but as the corner room continues to get deeper he’s going to need to turn that potential into production soon.

Kabion Ento

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (0 games): 3 solo tackles, 3 combined tackles, 0 PDs, 0 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $660k

The UDFA out of Colorado is a receiver convert, and raw as a result. Ento’s size is pretty pedestrian for a receiver, but when stacked up against corners, he boasts elite size, and solid athletic tools usually not found outside of the draft.

Ento is still a work in progress, but he’s a useful special teamer, and as long as he can show consistent progress in his development, he has a shot. That said, there’s a good chance the practice squad is in his future.

Stanford Samuels

NFL Experience: 1st season
2020 Stats (2 games): 3 solo tackles, 3 combined tackles, 0 PDs, 0 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $660k

Samuels bounced around between safety and corner at Florida State, and unfortunately, an extremely poor combine saw him fall out of the draft entirely. The Packers stashed him on the practice squad last season, though he did have a cup of coffee against the depleted 49ers, and the Jaguars where he looked fine.

Samuels faces an uphill battle to turn himself into anything beyond special teams fodder, but we also shouldn’t put too much stock in one bad 40 time. His father was also a star at Florida State, and a CFL regular, and sometimes the coach’s kid offers more savvy and technique than your average prospect. That the Packers actually played him at all last year means they see something.

Eric Stokes

NFL Experience: Rookie (1st-round draft pick)
2020 Stats (Georgia, 9 games): 14 solo tackles, 20 combined tackles, 4 PDs, 4 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $2.168 million

The Packers realized they had a problem opposite Jaire Alexander, and here we have their proposed solution. They chose Stokes out of Georgia with the 29th pick in the draft, and if he doesn’t supplant Kevin King at some point this season, something has gone terribly wrong.

All of that said, there is some King in Stokes game. He’s a taller corner (though not as tall as King) who excelled in press-man in college. However, unlike King, Stokes was also a valuable zone contributor, especially in the deep third. He’s an absolute burner with great closing speed, and his technique is advanced for a young player. The only hitch in his game comes in run support, where, like King, scouts are universally critical.

Weakness against the run game is a minor sin as a cornerback, and Stokes possesses the talent and maturity to take over as the starter immediately. Given the alternatives outside, the sooner the better.

Shemar Jean-Charles

NFL Experience: Rookie (5th-round draft pick)
2020 Stats (Appalachian State, 11 games): 20 solo tackles, 33 combined tackles, 16 PDs, 1 INT, 0 FF, 0.0 sacks
2021 cap hit: $720k

Jean-Charles is a bulldog. He will be limited exclusively to the slot in the NFL due to his size, but he’s a tenacious defender who sticks like glue to his man, often to a fault. Jean-Charles was an established leader for his Appalachian State squad, frequently barking out orders when his teammates were misaligned and outwardly showing enthusiasm, firing people up. He is the quintessential guy you love to have on your team but absolutely despise playing against. Smart, tough as nails, and in your face all the time.

Jean-Charles is not without his weaknesses, which is why he was available in the late 5th. As physical as he is, he still struggles with larger receivers and he’s not equipped to move outside. He struggles with his jam and is more effective when allowed to read and react. He can also be overwhelmed in run defense, though never for lack of effort. As a senior he had 16 PDs, which is a testament to the close coverage he provides, but that aggressive nature can also take him out of certain plays and expose him in the vertical game.

While those negatives can be a problem, he should fit well into the Packer defense and provide a solid backup for Chandon Sullivan should he ever go down. This was a great late-round value pick, and there’s a pretty good chance that Jean-Charles turns into a fan favorite in short order.

APC 53-Man Roster Predictions

Starters: Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan

Backups: Eric Stokes, Shemar Jean-Charles, Stanford Samuels, Ka’dar Hollman

Jaire Alexander is the rock of the secondary, upon which everything else is built. He is, simply, one of the best corners in football. Chandon Sullivan was effective enough in the slot to enter as the incumbent, with Jean-Charles waiting in the wings should something go wrong.

We think Kevin King will kick things off as the starter due to general familiarity, but Eric Stokes will likely take over at some point during the season due to injury or ineffectiveness. Samuels and Hollman will provide special teams support as they try to turn themselves into suitable backup defenders. Hollman’s small sample production may warrant a larger sample this season.