2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Cornerbacks

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Packers 2012 Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Casey HaywardPackers Cornerbacks:  All eyes were on the cornerback group during Training Camp in 2012. This unit, above all others, had some serious competition going on for a starting job. And the result was that this competition continued throughout the season until we ended up with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Casey Hayward as the clear leaders of the secondary.

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Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Tramon Williams (UDFA, 2006)
Jarrett Bush (UDFA, 2006)
Sam Shields (UDFA, 2010)
Davon House (4th Round, 2011)
Casey Hayward (2nd Round, 2012)
James Nixon (UDFA, 2012, Practice Squad)

How many teams can say that their top two cornerbacks went undrafted as rookies? The Packers can, though they can also say that their past two draft selections on cornerbacks are also beginning to make names for themselves.

  • Williams: After a horrible showing in 2011 thanks to an early shoulder injury, Tramon Williams was looking to get back to his championship form of 2010. Unfortunately, he only seemed to get about halfway there. He showed clear improvement but still came up short, especially in key moments. The big question is whether he’ll continue the upward trend or start falling again.
  • Bush: Can we be done with the Jarrett Bush experiment once and for all? He’s a key special teams player, but a starting cornerback he is not. His performance in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers had the coaches quickly backpedaling in their confidence, and in Week 2 Bush was no longer starting anymore.
  • Shields: The award for most improved player of the year could easily go to Sam Shields. He went from an abysmal 2011 season to legitimate shutdown corner status in 2012. Not only that, he found the will to tackle and play with more physicality. His size doesn’t help much, but at least the right attitude is finally there.
  • House: People seemed to forget about Davon House during the offseason until he started proving his worth in training camp. From almost nowhere, he became one of the favored starters next to Tramon Williams. A shoulder injury derailed those plans, but in a short amount of time, House has initiated a lot of hope for the future.
  • Hayward: This is the kind of immediate impact you hope to get out of a second round draft pick. Casey Hayward became the clear replacement for Charles Woodson in the slot, and he’s got a bright future ahead of him. Even if Hayward wins a starting job next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he, like Woodson, moves to the slot in nickel situations.
  • Nixon: He’s a practice squad body and one that was added during the season. James Nixon is a clean slate until we can see what he does in the offseason.

Where we want to be:

Things are actually looking pretty good for the Packers cornerbacks. In fact, I’d say it would be hard for the Packers to get much better. They essentially have four starting-caliber cornerbacks on the roster with Williams, Shields, Hayward, and House. It’s a blessing to have in the days of the pass-happy NFL, and utilizing all of them in a dime package wouldn’t leave many weaknesses like it would with many other teams.

The big question going into next season will be who gets the starting roles in the “base” 3-4 packages. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said that next season will start with open competition for both spots. Tramon Williams didn’t hit the mark of his 2010 season, and it might actually do him some good to feel the heat. (It definitely helped Shields this past year.) Both Casey Hayward and Davon House have shown the potential to be legitimate starters, meaning everyone in the unit will be looking to step up their game for the right to playing time.

This corps of cornerbacks could actually be the strongest overall position for the Packers going into next season.

How do we get there?

At this point, Ted Thompson should be looking a couple years down the road when it comes to the cornerbacks. Both Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams will be hitting the age of 30 soon, so their clocks have started ticking. Beyond that, Shields is entering his fourth year, House is entering his third, and the rest are going to be in their sophomore season. It’s a good thing in the NFL when youth comes with your talent.

Still, Thompson will want to be ready for eventual replacements in about two years. (Both Williams and Bush become free agents in 2015.) He has James Nixon in the wings, but he’ll want to take some flyers on late round draft picks or undrafted rookie free agents. After all, it’s the way he found Williams and Shields. Plus, he’ll actually have time to develop them with plenty of depth already secured.

I don’t see any need for trades or veteran free agent signings for this position. Anything of that nature would be too costly for what might only amount to a slight upgrade. Besides, all of these guys know the defensive system and have proven their worth in multiple ways.

If there are going to be any additions to the secondary, it will come at the safety position. Barring any unforeseen injuries, this cornerback group is pretty well set.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • Chad Toporski

    Slow day on the comments threads…

    • JimR_in_DC

      When you’ve nailed it, you’ve nailed it. Nothing left to be said. ;)

  • Oppy

    The CB room is the most pleasant surprise of the last year or two for the Packers IMO.

    Let’s face it, Historically, the Packers have really been sub par… I mean, they have really, really stunk, at drafting and grooming DB talent.

    Horrible. Pathetic.

    Almost all of our decent CB’s over the last decade have been free agent acquisitions, and most of our DB’s acquired via draft had been duds or unspectacular.

    This group has really shifted in the last four years. Great job, front office.

    I’ve been vocal in my questioning of Joe Whitt, Jr.’s ability to coach up our young CB’s for a number of years. Outside of Tramon Williams, we didn’t have a single young CB show much of anything- Shields was a one year wonder after a really shoddy sophomore season.. But now Shields looks new and improved again. House looks very promising. Hayward.. Well, you know. Joe Whitt Jr. has seemingly stepped up and has these young talents playing real football.

    Really impressive corps of young CBs we have right now.

    • Stroh

      You must be thinking back to the Sherman years when they couldn’t find a decent DB in the draft. Thats not been the case w/ Thompson!

      • Oppy

        What CB has TT drafted before 2011 that has panned out?

        Nada, to my recollection. Tramon Williams is the only one I can think of, and he wasn’t drafted by the Packers, nor was the Packers his first stop in his pro career, technically.

        It has only been the last three years we’ve had any success drafting and/or developing CB talent in Green Bay- Shields as an UDFA in 2010, then drafted House in 2011 and Hayward in 2012.

        Ted’s first five years as GM of the Pack (in regards to drafting and developing CBs) can be summed up with two words: Patrick Lee.

        • Chad Toporski

          Yeah… Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood weren’t exactly studs.

          • Stroh

            Lee was a bust, but Underwood was a 6th round pick that played Safety in college. The fact a 6th round drafted safety didn’t work at CB should hardly be considered a mistake. It was at best a 1/3 chance that you take on a 6th round pick. I mean honestly how many 6th round picks become good starters anyway?

  • Ron LC

    Tramon needs to get his head back on straight. He was anything but good last year and the year before for that mater. Give’em the injury in 2011, but last year? No, he better start playing at a much higher level. With his very high salary, he’s not providing an ROI.

    Get your head out Tramon and play like you know you can.

    The rest of the group is in varying degrees of progress. Overall they represent a strong component in the D.

    • Oppy

      I really do think Tramon has been playing loose coverage because he doesn’t trust his safety help.

      None the less, you’re right, he needs to bring it back up to 2010 levels of performance.

      It’s hard to argue your point about return on investment last season.