Cornerbacks: Here’s the ninth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this series, here for quarterbacks, here for running backs, here for wide receivers, here for tight ends, here for offensive tackles, here for offensive interior linemen, here for defensive ends, here for outside linebackers and here for inside linebackers). This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what cornerbacks are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.
Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion. Also listed below are also two cornerbacks in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.
Statistics of cornerbacks drafted by the Packers:
What the Packers are looking for: The NFL is a passing league now and it makes sense that cornerbacks are one of the most highly drafted players in the NFL, right after wide receivers; just as offenses are trotting out 5 wide receivers, defenses are following suit with multiple cornerbacks, with the nickel cornerback being a de facto starter these days. With that being said Ted Thompson doesn’t have the best track record of picking cornerbacks in the draft.
Both Underwoods were drafted at cornerbacks but might have had a better chance at safety; Marviel dealt with multiple injuries before being finally released in 2007 and Brandon moved from potential nickel cornerback to potential backup safety and finally to the dog pound after pleading guilty for soliciting a pair of prostitutes. Needless to say he’s on shaky ground this year and is probably a long shot to make the team due to all the negative press surrounding him. Micheal Hawkins only managed a season with the Packers and has bounced around the league since. Pat Lee was a perhaps the biggest bust of the group; after being drafted in the second round, he’s spent most of his time either on IR or on the bench.
Therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that basically the entire cornerback corps is composed of free agents; starting cornerbacks Charles Woodson was a veteran free agent signed from the Raiders and Tramon Williams was picked up after the Texans cut the rookie free agent. Sam Shield came in as a rookie free agent to try out as a returner (which he was terrible at) and ended up as the nickel cornerback (where he was pretty damn good). Finally the much-aligned Jarrett Bush was also a rookie free agent who made his name on special teams but also served as the team’s dime cornerback.
So what’s with the lack of talent at cornerback in terms of the draft? Could it be that the team is still hesitant to draft a cornerback high after the Ahmad Caroll mess and the lack of production coming from Pat Lee? Maybe its cause Thompson seems to hit it out of the ball park when it comes to free agent cornerbacks, but it is surprising that he hasn’t had much success in the draft, his bread and butter method of picking up talent.
The drills that cornerbacks have the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying highest importance) are 40 yard dash and shuttle times. In my opinion cornerbacks and safeties are the two premium 40 time positions; receivers have a distinct advantage based on the fact that they know what route they running, cornerbacks on the other hand have to be fast enough to recover when the receiver breaks for his route. Shuttle also makes a lot of sense since it tests for agility and balance, which are vitally important for a cornerback since falling down while on coverage almost always results in a big play.
As for specific skills, instincts are probably the most important; cornerbacks have to guess what kind of play the offense is going to run and while a solid understanding of route concepts and leverage can make it an educated guess, cornerbacks still have to rely a lot on their instincts to make plays. The other important skill is being able to block out negative emotions; getting beat on the previous play is no excuse for getting beat on another. The Packers is known as a zone blitz 3-4, meaning that the pash rush comes from the outside linebackers and standard coverage is zone; obviously being able to play zone coverage is essential. Cornerbacks are also sometimes used as surprised blitzers since the pash rush will be coming in from odd angles and cornerbacks usually aren’t accounted for in pass protection schemes.
Comparable cornerbacks in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Justin Rodgers Richmond/5’11”/180 lbs/4.50 40-yard dash/ 4.20 shuttle:
- Impressive Instincts
- Flows to the ball in zone coverage
- Willing tackler in run support
- Lacks deep speed
- Will get outmuscled for the ball
- Lacks explosive first step
Buster Skrine Tennessee-Chatanooga/5’10”/186 lbs/4.548 40-yard dash/3.90 shuttle
- Has deep speed
- Disciplined in zone coverage
- Good hands
- Will get outmuscled for the ball
- Poor tackler
Conclusion: Presuming that Charles Woodson recovers fully from his injury and Sam Shields doesn’t experience a sophomore slump, the Packers appear to have their starting 3 cornerbacks set with Jarrett Bush being a fairly serviceable dime cornerback. It’s probably unlikely to see a cornerback being picked early unless the Packers feel that its time to draft the successor to Charles Woodson, but with Sam Shield in the mix my feeling is that they will see if he can replace Woodson first before drafting a cornerback high.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.