The Green Bay Packers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 due in large part to another under-performing defense. Their pass defense ranked 21st in the league and was last in 2016. The Packers find themselves in a similar conundrum this off-season. They need to find an answer on the back end, particularly at the boundary cornerback position.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is gone after eight years with the team. Mike Pettine inherits a young group of athletic cornerbacks that have shown little consistency over the past two seasons. Former general manager Ted Thompson spent a lot of draft capital investing in the secondary over the past several drafts. New man Brian Gutekunst has already claimed he will be more aggressive in free agency than his predecessor, so cornerback may be a target. Regardless of whether they utilize free agency or the draft, the Packers need at cornerback must be addressed this off-season.
How to Solve the Green Bay Packers Need at Cornerback
Free Agency Options
Butler and Johnson could become two of the highest paid players at their position come March. The Packers don’t typically shell out top dollar for other teams’ players but Gutekunst could really make a splash with one of these players. Butler is a physical, man cover corner who isn’t afraid to attack ball carriers either. He had an inconsistent final year with the Patriots that culminated in zero defensive snaps in Super Bowl LII. Butler was an ascending player in years prior, collecting a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and being elected Second-team All-Pro in 2016.
Johnson has been an electrifying playmaker for the Rams for years now. He has the ability to match up against an opposing team’s top receiver no matter the stature. After an ankle injury in week two of 2017 Johnson experienced a down year by his standards. He has wanted to be the top paid corner in the game for awhile now, so his price tag may too high for the Packers if teams ignore this past year. Butler or Johnson would be an instant upgrade opposite 2017 first round pick Kevin King, moving Damarious Randall to the slot.
Gaines is another interesting option the Packers should consider. After a few injury-riddled years with the Rams, Gaines really broke out with the Bills in 2017. Gaines recorded nine pass break-ups, 59 tackles, and one pick in 11 starts last year. Contrary to Butler and Johnson, Gaines succeeds in more of an off-zone role. Gaines is a similar player to former Packer Casey Hayward, and could look to fill the hole left by Hayward’s departure two years ago. He could also be seeking a similar contract of between five and seven million per season, more in the Packers’ range.
Worth the Risk:
Davis is a veteran cornerback option who could be looking for a change of scenery. He had success during stints with the Miami Dolphins and Colts but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in recent years. Davis has great man coverage ability and technique. He would instantly compete with Randall across from the more physical King. He could easily be seeking a short-term prove-it deal in the Packers’ range.
Fuller is an interesting young player the Packers should keep an eye on. It doesn’t appear that he will return to the rival Bears after general manager Ryan Pace declined Fuller’s fifth-year option last off-season. Fuller had a strong rookie season but missed his sophomore year to a knee injury and played poorly in 2015. He rebounding with a strong season where he intercepted four passes and forced three fumbles. The Packers could use a playmaking young player on the outside. Fuller could end up being a free agent steal on the open market.
2018 NFL Draft Prospects
First Round Prospects:
- Denzel Ward, Ohio State
- Josh Jackson, Iowa
The Packers have a great opportunity with the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to take one of this year’s top cornerback prospects. There are several starting-caliber players that could be available at 14. Ward is predicted to be the next Ohio State cornerback to be drafted in the first round. He was first-team All-American this past year due to his quickness and ability to break on the ball. He’s a smaller player but has great athletic ability and technique in coverage.
If Jackson tests well at the NFL Combine, he could be a possible top ten pick. He was the best cornerback in college football last year, racking up an astounding 26 pass breakups and eight picks. He’s got the height to match up against NFL wide receivers, but his speed has come into question. He’s inexperienced but may have the best ball skills in the draft. The Packers need more playmakers on defense, so Jackson could be a strong target in round one.
- Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
- Nick Nelson, Wisconsin
If the Packers are able to nab a veteran free agent capable of starting this year, they would probably use their first round pick on another area of need. The Packers still need to add young depth in the secondary. McFadden and Nelson present solid day two picks that could contribute in their rookie seasons. Both are larger players but have very different games. McFadden has great range and ball skills, intercepting eight passes in 2016 and deflecting ten passes this past year. He also allowed a fair amount of touchdowns though.
Nelson is a more physical boundary defender than McFadden who thrives in man coverage. He was a major reason the Wisconsin Badgers had the second ranked defense in FBS last year. Nelson didn’t record any interceptions in college but recorded 36 pass breakups over the past two seasons. Either of these players could instantly compete for playing time in year one.
The Packers are expected to have around $18 million in cap space for 2018. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a hefty contract extension looming in the near future, so the new front office won’t be able to go on a wild spending spree. Expect them to bring in some veteran help, whether that be re-signing Davon House or luring Davis or Fuller in on a short-term deal. The Packers should then save their first round pick for a difference-maker in the front seven before focusing on corner in the middle rounds. There could be serious potential for this group with some additional veteran leadership mixed with a little infusion of youth.
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