At one time in the NFL, the nickel defensive back was a cornerback who couldn’t beat out one of the starting boundary cornerbacks. But NFL offenses have undergone changes in recent history and with that, so has the nickel back position. As discussed with Coach Ben Clubb, most NFL base offenses consist of three starting wide receivers, or more, making the nickel corner actually a starting position and one that is vital in a team’s base defense. Last season, the Green Bay Packers finished 31st in passing defense, making all of the positions in the Packers secondary important. But the nickel defensive back will be crucial. That is why the battle for the Packers nickel defensive back will be one to watch.
The Battle For the Green Bay Packers Nickel Defensive Back Will be One to Watch
It is presumed that veteran Davon House, who makes his return to Green Bay after two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and top draft pick Kevin House will be the starting boundary cornerbacks when the Packers start their season this fall. Both players have the height (House is 6’1” while the rookie Kevin King stands 6’2”) and length to play the bump and run coverage Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers prefers. If that is the case, the depth behind House and King, who will be fighting for the starting nickel back position, will be plenty. However, there are three players who have a leg up on the competition and will be fighting it out in training camp to see who lands the nickel back position. Here are the three players:
Randall is a former first round pick by the Packers and will be entering his third season as a professional. Many expected Randall to make a big jump in his second season after showing glimpses in his rookie campaign. Unfortunately for the Packers and Randall, that didn’t happen. Randall battled a groin injury last season, one that caused him to have surgery and miss time, but even when he was healthy enough to play, Randall’s play was lacking. Randall’s play dropped increasingly from the season before and with that, so did what appears to be his on the field confidence. Once considered the answer as one of the starting boundary cornerback positions, his second season caused that belief to possibly fall to the side. Randall’s second season play could have been the driving force in the return of House and the drafting of King.
Even if Randall doesn’t win one of the starting boundary cornerback positions, which seems a long shot right now, he still might have a spot in the Packers defense. Randall, who played safety at Arizona State, lined up frequently in the slot and did an excellent job while with the Sun Devils. His skills, which he displayed in his rookie season as well as Arizona State, might best be utilized at the nickel back position in the slot. Giving up totally on the former first round pick seems like a total long shot, but it might be a good bet he flourishes with the move inside. Heading into training camp, Randall should be considered the favorite to win the nickel back position.
Quinten Rollins’ career has been almost a carbon copy of Randall’s. Rollins also flashed at times his rookie season and like Randall, his play dropped in his second season. Rollins also battled injuries last season, with his groin and his neck, which forced him to miss some action. With the way Randall and Rollins flashed in their rookie seasons, it made Casey Hayward, who departed as a free agent before last season to the then San Diego Chargers, expendable, or at least it seemed. For the nickel back position, Rollins has the ball skills to flourish, he displayed that in his only season playing football at Miami (OH) when he had seven interceptions. What possibly might hold Rollins back is that he doesn’t possess the same type of speed Randall has. But Hayward wasn’t a burner either and he put up big interception numbers while playing the nickel back position for the Packers. Rollins, a former second round pick, will need to stay healthy and display the type of ball hawking ability that the Packers expected, during training camp.
Once an undrafted free agent, Gunter became almost a savior for the Packers secondary last season. With starting cornerback Sam Shields lost to a season ending concussion and Randall down with a groin injury, it was Gunter who stepped in at one of the starting boundary cornerback positions and did an admirable job. Although many will remember Gunter being torched by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones for 180 receiving yards in the NFC Championship game, it should be pointed out that he held New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to four catches for 28 yards and no touchdowns in the Packers playoff victory over the Giants.
Gunter might not seem to be a good fit in the slot because of his size, 6’2”, and going up against smaller sized wide receivers, but his size might be what draws Capers to Gunter. Capers, as discussed earlier, likes defensive backs with length and size. Although Gunter doesn’t have the speed Randall and Rollins has, the idea of having his top three defensive backs being 6’2” or 6’1”, who can play physical coverage, might lean Capers in favoring Gunter for the nickel back position. Gunter should be considered a dark horse in this position battle.
The battle will be an interesting one to watch this season. All three players have their attributes but also have weaknesses. Obviously, the key will be for House and King to show that they can handle the boundary cornerback positions. If that comes to fruition, then the Packers should have options at the nickel and even the dime back positions.