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Packers 2016 Cornerback Grades: Young players fell far below high expectations

The loss of Sam Shields left a young cornerback group rudderless without a veteran leader.

Wild Card Round - New York Giants v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Acme Packing Company continues the examination of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 roster. Each day over the next two weeks, we will break down a different position on the roster with examinations of the players on the 53-man roster in 2016, the contributions of new additions and players who signed new contracts, and players who have contracts expiring this offseason.

The Packers cornerbacks were one of the shining spots of the 2015 team, but one of the toughest places on the 2016 roster. Sam Shields was gone pretty much immediately. The loss of Casey Hayward was felt an dramatic ways after several more injuries throughout the season. The massive downturn in the Packers pass defense was a sore spot on the team and part of the reason the Packers could not hold their ground in the NFC Title Game.

The Second-Years: Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins

The two young men who represented the first two rounds of the Packers 2015 draft faced far greater adversity in their sophomore seasons. Randall missed six games due to injury and Rollins missed three. Both needed to step up more this year without Hayward and with the difficult loss of Sam Shields. It might have proved one difficult step too far.

Still, Randall managed to match the three interceptions he put up last season, while missing major time. He also managed nine passes defensed in nine starts (10 games played). That would be a better per game amount than 2015. Rollins saw a slight dip from two interceptions in 2015 to just one this year. The biggest problem was the yards surrendered. The Saints were the only team to surrender more passing yards than the Packers. Only the Lions and the Browns gave up more passing touchdowns.

Gunter might have been the brightest spot among the cornerbacks this year, though that’s not saying much. He was frequently lined up against the opponent’s number one receiver while the Packers were without Randall and Rollins. Gunter had a great game in the regular season match up with Atlanta. Gunter was instrumental in holding Julio Jones to 29 receiving yards.

However, this graphic from Pro Football Focus shows the difference between the play of the three second-year pros as rookies compared to their 2016 play:

Key Contributor: Micah Hyde

Although he helped out at safety as well, Hyde’s primary role in 2016 was in the slot and he ending up being the team’s primary nickel back when the young players missed time with injuries. He recorded nine pass breakups and three interceptions on the year, including a critical pick to seal the NFC North title in week 17, and also pitched in with a great pick against Dallas in the playoffs.

Reserves: Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters

Josh Hawkins saw spot duty this season, largely being left off the field after giving up a huge touchdown against the Lions in week 3. He managed five tackles. Waters was added to the active roster near the end of the season but was never activated for a game. While he does sound like a product you would find at Whole Foods, he only really ended up having roster value because of the injuries everywhere.

Injured Reserve: Sam Shields, Demetri Goodson, Makinton Dorleant

This was the most important part of the Packers’ cornerback unit. The top cornerback and the veteran leader of this corps disappeared after a concussion in the first game of the season and never returned. Goodson is a player the Packers would have relied on for depth this year, but he was only available for six games and started in three. Losing both these players effectively removed two of the top five cornerbacks on the roster. Dorleant was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Northern Iowa. It is more likely the team was hoping to store him away and prepare him for the future, but he was pressed into service early. He was available late in the season (weeks 13-16) before being placed on IR with a single tackle to his name.

Position Grade: D-

Much of the problem was the injuries, but there was a hope that after a good start last year there would be a pronounced improvement among the young group. The injuries definitely hampered the growth of these young players, but any evaluation of the effectiveness of this group has to be low. The inability to play a consistent man coverage scheme damaged the defense. The Packers greatest single weakness was the inability to stop passing attacks on three straight plays.