What If The Packers Don't Draft a Cornerback?
It’s taken almost as a given that the Packers will select a cornerback in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Last year’s playoff run ended in large part because the Packers had nobody who could cover consistently. Dez Bryant took what he wanted against Ladarius Gunter and company, and Julio Jones was more than happy to feast on the leftovers.
This year’s draft class is considered unusually deep at cornerback, and virtually everyone in the mock draft industrial complex has offered at least one version that has the Packers taking a corner in the first round.
But what if they didn’t? It might not be as crazy as it sounds.
Corner wasn’t always a precarious position
It’s hardly a reach to imagine the Packers’ front office assessing the current stable of defensive backs different than those on the outside.
As Twitter user Kyle Kubasa points out, it was only ten months ago that Packers players and coaches went on record saying that the entire secondary might be a strength of the team.
Morgan Burnett said that strength came from a variety of sources, from experience to the simple fact that the secondary was a tight-knit group.
"I just like the way the guys compete," Burnett said. "We enjoy coming to work. It motivates you to see the guy next to you is working just as hard as you are. You don't want to let him down; you hold yourself accountable and we hold each other accountable. We have a tight brotherhood in our secondary."
But almost a year later, Sam Shields may never play again and Micah Hyde is cashing large checks in Buffalo. Surely the secondary has declined, right?
Davon House may help relieve some pressure
Though second year cornerbacks Gunter, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins regressed badly last year, it’s possible that the Packers could consider that an aberration rather than an alarming trend.
Assuming that they will get their development back on track may be a big assumption to make, but it’s not out of the question.
It’s also possible that the front office views the injury to Sam Shields as a linchpin of sorts, buoying other members of the secondary up. To a certain extent, we can logically deduce that Shields did play that role, since his absence automatically forced Randall, Rollins, and Gunter into roles they were not prepared to play.
Though he’s not the player Shields was, Davon House could fill a similar role. If House can assume some or all of the snaps at one corner spot, it gives all of the rest of the group more defined roles.
If the Packers think that’s the case, maybe a corner isn’t a priority in the draft.
High end corners may not actually be that high end
Draft analyst Tony Pauline offered a very interesting insight into the cornerback class when he appeared on an episode of Blue 58. He’s not a big fan of the corners expected to go early in the draft:
I’m not really sold on the prospects at the top, but I think you’re going to be able to get good corners in the third and fourth rounds: guys that can develop into starters, guys that can play in nickel and dime packages as rookies in the league.
If that’s true, it’s possible that the Packers may hold off on a cornerback all together. Why? Well, beyond the first couple rounds, drafting a cornerback really doesn’t bring that much value.
Our Gary Zilavy charted the Pro Football Focus 2016 ratings for every cornerback who played in the NFL last year against the round of the draft they were selected in, and the results are interesting.
According to the data, a given NFL team is basically as likely to get a good corner from the field of undrafted players as in rounds three through seven.
Will the Packers actually pass on a corner?
Trying to predict what Ted Thompson will do in the draft is a fool’s errand, but it sure wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Packers forego a corner early on.
Surely there have been other times in Thompson’s when the Packers’ needs in the secondary has been as dire as it is now.
Yet in his eleven years of drafting for the Packers, Thompson has only picked a defensive back in the first round twice: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2014 and Damarious Randall in 2015.
Thompson prefers instead to pursue much more elusive targets: athletic pass rushers and burly run stoppers. Even though this is considered an unusually talented class of corners, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Packers choose to fortify their defense outside of the secondary.