Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is one of the most difficult general managers to predict in the first round of any draft. And this off-season the Packers have three major needs: running back, pass rusher, and cornerback. Luckily for Green Bay, the draft is deep at each of these positions. With possibly as many as eight cornerbacks worthy of a first round selection, the Packers can shore up their secondary with one dynamic player at boundary corner.
The loss of Sam Shields early in the 2016 season proved to be too much to overcome as the Packers ended the season ranked dead last against the pass. With free agency right around the corner and the NFL Draft just beyond, here is a look at several intriguing first-round cornerback options for the Packers.
First Round Cornerback Options for Green Bay Packers
Sidney Jones, Washington
If Sidney Jones is available at pick 29, Ted Thompson and company should sprint the card to the commissioner. A three-year starter for the Huskies, Jones was an integral piece of Washington’s improbable run to the college football playoffs. After lining up opposite former first-round pick Marcus Peters his freshman year, Jones took home first-team all conference honors both his sophomore and junior seasons. With 27 career pass deflections and nine interceptions, Jones’ biggest strength is his ability to attack the ball in air.
Standing just over six feet and weighing in at 170 lbs, many scouts have concerns about Jones’ ability to counter the physical receivers of today’s NFL. Jones displays the toughness and physicality at the line of scrimmage that should allow him to compete despite his thin physique. He knows how to utilize his size in press and has the sticky man coverage ability to mirror receivers downfield. He can get turned around at times on deep routes, but has the speed and high football IQ needed to correct himself and find the football.
Fit with Packers
Jones would instantly step in as the Packers top cornerback with his pure coverage ability. Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Ladarius Gunter have all shown promise, but Jones is already more polished than these players at playing boundary corner. He should also test well at the NFL Combine in the 40-yard dash. Speed has been the Achilles heel for the Packers secondary in recent years. Jones could be the pure cover corner with the athleticism necessary to lock down an opponent’s number one receiver while the rest of the depth chart can settle into their roles as complimentary pieces.
Teez Tabor, Florida
One of the most difficult prospects to predict is impressive prospect Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor from the University of Florida. With prototypical size and impressive agility and quickness, Tabor has the look of an NFL-caliber cornerback. He does his best work in off-coverage when he has the ability to diagnose plays with his eyes. He has exceptional awareness which allows him to break on the ball when it’s thrown. After being a high school standout in Washington DC, Tabor carried his talent to Florida. He earned Freshmen All-American honors with two sacks, eight pass breakups, and an interception. He only improved on his ball skills as his career progressed, picking off four passes in both is sophomore and junior seasons and took home first-team All-SEC honors each year.
Although Tabor has exceptional instincts when driving on the ball, he can occasionally get beat by long-striding receivers. When Tabor is forced to make a play on the receiver in the open field he can get overpowered or out of position when tackling. Even with good size at six feet and near 200 lbs, Tabor doesn’t display the physical attributes to be a factor in the run game. Based on his coverage ability alone, Tabor will most likely be drafted well before pick 29. But several off the field concerns may keep teams weary on draft day. Tabor was suspended during his sophomore season after refusing to take a drug test. This past season, he was again under fire as an entanglement with a teammate violated team policy. Although both are minor offenses both coaches and NFL personnel have voiced their concern with the maturity of the young player.
Fit with Packers
If teams shy away from Tabor on draft day and he falls to pick 29, Tabor will have to convince Ted Thompson that his on-field ability outweighs any character concerns the Packers may have. Tabor would become the top cornerback for the Packers in his first season due to his impressive awareness when the ball’s in the air. Green Bay would be getting a steal at the end of the first round if off the field concerns make for a draft day slide for the young corner.
Tre’Davious White, LSU
As one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation, Tre’Davious White had exceptional success at LSU, much of which came from the slot. The four-year starter is hoping to join his LSU companions as an early draft selection come April. White has the versatility the Packers covet as he played both inside and outside corner as well as punt returner and gunner. He used that versatility to post 167 total tackles, six interceptions, and an impressive 34 pass deflections over his career, with 21 breakups coming in his last two seasons alone.
Although his interception totals are pedestrian for his experience and playing time, he plays very sticky man coverage and is excellent at fighting receivers for the football. Similar to Sidney Jones, the knock on White is his size and ability to hold up against larger receivers. He had decent tackle totals at LSU but was overpowered at times in the run game. Weighing just under 190 lbs and standing less than six feet tall, White almost certainly will man the slot in the NFL. Fortunately for White, slot cornerbacks see the field more each season.
Fit with Packers
A player of White’s caliber at the 29th pick might be too much for Thompson to pass up, but because of White’s smaller stature and inability to play on the boundary, the Packers should be looking to draft another player in the first round. With Randall and Rollins both having difficulty on the outside last year, the Packers should strongly consider drafting a bigger-bodied cornerback that can allow the young guys from the 2015 draft to be better utilized in the slot.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
One of the most decorated high school athletes in his class, Marlon Humphrey provides physical traits that NFL executives will be drooling over. He has the prototypical size and bulk for NFL starting cornerbacks, standing at 6’1” and 195 lbs. He should light up the NFL Combine and test as a top performer at the position. Although he is one of the most athletic cover men entering the draft, Humphrey’s cover ability has plenty of room for improvement. He tends to rely on his athleticism rather than technique when covering receivers downfield. Humphrey is strong at the line of scrimmage in his initial punch but can get out of position when in off-coverage. His feet and hips are quick to turn with receivers but his balance in and out of breaks is haphazard. His closing speed covers up many of his coverage mishaps, but NFL-caliber route runners could take advantage of Humphrey early in his career.
While he does allow the big play which hinders his ability to play deep, Humphrey can be a dominant downhill cornerback playing near the line of scrimmage. With 81 tackles over his two years as a starter, Humphrey shows aggression when attacking the line of scrimmage. He also forced three fumbles amongst those tackles and intercepted five passes, showing the propensity to be a playmaker at the next level. It’s difficult to predict where Humphrey will land in the first round given his inconsistent coverage ability but incredible athletic gifts. If he dazzles at the Combine, like many imagine, his stock may skyrocket leading up to the draft.
Fit with Packers
If Humphrey drops to the end of the first round where many have him projected the Packers would be adding some much needed athleticism to their defense. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are decent athletes with versatility to slide down the depth chart if Humphrey were drafted, but none of the three have the lockdown ability to be the Packers number one corner on the boundary. Humphrey would no doubt add depth and playmaking ability to a position of need, but don’t expect him to be the savior of the secondary until he refines his mechanics and gains better on-field awareness.
Any of the players listed above would provide an instant jolt to a position of weakness heading into the 2017 season. Sidney Jones would be the best fit for the Packers if he falls in the draft, but Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey could have the highest ceiling of them all. Fixing the pass defense will be key if the Packers plan to make it back to the Superbowl for just the second time in the Aaron Rodgers-era.