Since the 2015 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers have spent a first and two second-round draft picks on a cornerback. But still, the position is still a weakness. Up and down play, lack of depth, and injuries are forcing new top personnel executive Brian Gutekunst at possibly having to look at spending another high round draft pick on the position. As such, cornerback remains a position of need they must address in the draft.
Green Bay Packers NFL Draft: Why Cornerback Is Once Again a Team Need
Last season, former general manager Ted Thompson traded out of the first round and with the Packers top pick, in the second round, selected Kevin King out of Washington. King showed glimpses in his rookie season, but was lost late to a season-ending shoulder injury. When healthy, the tall, long-levered cornerback showed why the Packers are high on him. But now, coming off shoulder surgery, the Packers are going to have to hope that King can bounce back and lock down one of the starting boundary cornerback positions.
If King does bounces back, which isn’t a guarantee, the Packers are still going to have to worry about who will play opposite of King. Last off-season, the Packers brought back Davon House hoping he would be the answer. However, like with King, House battled injuries but even when healthy, House lacked the catch-up speed needed to cover opposing wide receivers. House is a free agent this off-season and it appears doubtful he will be returning.
One possible candidate to play opposite of King is former first-round pick, Damarious Randall. Randall, who struggled the previous season and at the start of last season, bounced back and was the Packers best playmaker at the cornerback position. Randall picked off four passes last season, returning one for a touchdown. Still, it appears that Randall is best suited lining up in the slot, still making boundary cornerback a need for the Packers.
The wild card in the Packers search for a starting boundary cornerback lies with Gutekunst. It is well known that his predecessor, Thompson, didn’t utilize free agency like most NFL teams do. If Gutekunst, which would come to the delight of Packers fans, utilizes free agency, cornerback should be the top target. That would offset the need of spending a high round pick on the cornerback position for the Packers. It would be a domino effect for the Packers and newly appointed pass game coordinator Joe Whitt. With a veteran cornerback on one boundary, King at the other, and Randall in the slot, Whitt could utilize former second-round pick Quinten Rollins in a backup role. Like with King, Rollins will be coming off a season-ending injury, but playing a backup role will take some pressure off him.
Still, there is no guarantee that Gutekunst will dip into free agency, forcing the Packers to once again look to the NFL draft to address the cornerback position. This year’s draft has some solid prospects that are worthy of being drafted in the first round.
Josh Jackson, Iowa
Along with defensive lineman Marcus Davenport, Jackson has been a popular name linked to the Packers in some NFL mock drafts. There is a good reason why. Jackson has intriguing size for a cornerback at 6’1”, 205 pounds and showed this past season for the Hawkeyes that he is a playmaker. This past season, Jackson had seven interceptions for Iowa, returning two of them, both coming in their game against Wisconsin, for touchdowns. Jackson’s best game came in the Hawkeyes biggest victory this season. Against Ohio State, Jackson helped propel the Hawkeyes to a 55-24 over the Buckeyes with three interceptions. The Packers have a history drafting Iowa players and Jackson has the ability to be another in a long line of former Hawkeyes to wear the green and gold.
Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Ward should join the long list of former Ohio State Buckeyes to be drafted in the first round. Ward earned All-American honors this past season for the Buckeyes, with two interceptions and 15 pass breakups. As NFL.com stated, Ward is a superior athlete and should test well at this year’s combine.
Because of his size at 5’10”, 197 pounds, Ward will need to play in the right system to be best utilized. If he is asked to play a lot of press coverage, he might struggle. However, if he plays in a system that best utilizes his athletic ability, he should be a solid starter for many seasons in the NFL.
Mike Hughes, Central Florida
For an NFL team that is looking for a physical cornerback unafraid at jamming opposing receivers, look no further than Hughes. He’s a thicker cornerback which he utilizes to jam and press opposing receivers.
Hughes played for three different schools, first at North Carolina, where he was dismissed, then spent a season at a junior college, then ending his college career at Central Florida. This past season for head coach Scott Frost, Hughes had four interceptions and earned all-conference honors. Hughes was a big part of why the Knights went undefeated this past season.
Hughes might not be the first corner off the board, but he has the ability to be the most productive as a rookie from this list.
If Gutekunst and the Packers decide to address the cornerback position in the first round, they will have some options. But if they decide to wait, this draft is deep enough where they should have options later in the draft as well. One name to keep an eye on is former Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson. Nelson had a very productive season for the Badgers after transferring from Hawai’i. Besides having the size and athletic ability, Nelson was also a productive punt returner.
There will be options in the draft at cornerback, but the biggest question will be if the Packers finally become a player in free agency and if so, will they address their need at cornerback. Time will only tell.