Bumper crop of cor­ners could pass by

Pack­ers set at po­si­tion with Shields as No. 1

Packer Plus - - 2016 Nfl Draft Preview: Cornerbacks - By MICHAEL CO­HEN mco­hen@journalsentinel.com

Green Bay — There were prob­a­bly a hand­ful of mo­ments dur­ing the 2015 sea­son when gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son looked out onto a field, be it at home in Wis­con­sin or some­where else across the coun­try, and en­joyed the re­al­iza­tion that his first- and sec­ond-round picks look like sure­fire win­ners.

Among those mo­ments — and per­haps there were more than a hand­ful given how well Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and Quin­ten Rollins played — a driz­zly Sun­day in Oak­land must rank near the top. Thomp­son’s team, the Green Bay Pack­ers, ar­rived in Cal­i­for­nia amid a late-sea­son resur­gence, with two straight wins to sta­bi­lize a sea­son that, dur­ing an un­sightly mid­dle por­tion, fea­tured four losses in Novem­ber.

With­out their No. 1 cor­ner­back, Sam Shields, the Pack­ers trot­ted onto the field their two rook­ies, Ran­dall, the first-round pick, and Rollins, the sec­ond, to face an im­mensely tal­ented re­ceiv­ing group in an im­mensely im­por­tant game. Though he en­dured his ups and downs against Amari Cooper, a bud­ding phenom, Ran­dall logged 94% of snaps. And Rollins, who spent plenty of time on Michael Crab­tree, was on the field 95% of the time.

The Pack­ers won, 30-20, on Dec. 20 by re­ly­ing in part on a pair of 23-year-olds.

“What can I say about our rook­ies?” coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL scout­ing com­bine. “Our rook­ies stepped in and played well and re­ally were com­pet­ing for start­ing jobs as we were com­ing down the line there, the fi­nal stretch into the play­offs.

“I’m not talk­ing about just the sub-pack­ages, but in the base pack­age.”

Ran­dall and Rollins are two of six cor­ner­backs on the Pack­ers’ ros­ter un­der the age of 27, count­ing util­ity man Micah Hyde. The lone vet­eran is Shields, who is 28, and he just hap­pens to be the unit’s best player.

Aside from wide re­ceiver, which is burst­ing with depth and ex­pe­ri­ence, cor­ner­back might be the most se­cure po­si­tion on the ros­ter. An un­ques­tioned No. 1 in Shields is bol­stered by the rapid de­vel­op­ment of Ran­dall and Rollins, who are buoyed by a num­ber of young play­ers the team is ex­cited about: LaDar­ius Gunter, Demetri Good­son and Robert­son Daniel.

Toss in Hyde, whose value is mea­sured in the ver­sa­til­ity to play slot cor­ner and both safety spots, and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Ca­pers will be chal­lenged to find enough play­ing time for ev­ery­one.

“Sam had a very good year,” McCarthy said. “Missed some games, but our young group (in the) sec­ondary def­i­nitely has a bright fu­ture.”

Here’s a look at the draft’s top cor­ner­back prospects: 1. JALEN RAM­SEY

Florida State, 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, 4.41 sec­onds in the 40yard dash

Low­down: Ram­sey has been a bona fide star since his high school days in Ten­nessee, when he was a five-star prospect ranked among the top­five cor­ner­backs in the na­tion. He be­came the first true fresh­man to start at cor­ner­back for Florida State since Deion San­ders in 1985. Earned some form of Al­lAmer­i­can sta­tus af­ter each of his three sea­sons, in­clud­ing con­sen­sus hon­ors as a ju­nior in 2015. Won the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence ti­tle in the long jump at both the in­door and out­door cham­pi­onships last year. Ran lead­off leg on a 4x100 re­lay team that also took home an ACC ti­tle. Re­mark­able athlete who posted the best ver­ti­cal leap (411⁄

2 inches) of any cor­ner at the draft com­bine. Might be the best prospect at cor­ner and safety. Great frame for a press cor­ner. Tremen­dous leap­ing abil­ity to con­test jump balls. Foot­work must im­prove at the line of scrim­mage. Low in­ter­cep­tion rate for some­one of his abil­ity. “I played it all in col­lege, I played every po­si­tion in the sec­ondary so I’m ver­sa­tile,” Ram­sey said at the com­bine. “Prob­a­bly the most ver­sa­tile DB in this draft.” Pro­jec­tion: First round 2. VER­NON HAR­G­REAVES III Florida, 5-10, 204, 4.50 Low­down: Like Ram­sey, Har­g­reaves was some­thing of a na­tional star at Paul R. Whar­ton High School in Tampa, Fla. He was named the Na­tional De­fen­sive Player of the Year by the Touch­down Club of Colum­bus af­ter a se­nior year in which he made 110 tack­les, snagged five in­ter­cep­tions, forced five fum­bles and scored five touch­downs. Started 35 of the 37 games he played dur­ing a three-year ca­reer at Florida. Tackle num­bers dipped from his sopho­more to ju­nior sea­sons (50 down to 33), but he posted a ca­reer-high four in­ter­cep­tions in 2015, when was a con­sen­sus first-team All-Amer­i­can. Very good athlete with ex­cel­lent burst and change of di­rec­tion. Posted the fourthbest ver­ti­cal leap (39 inches) among cor­ner­backs at the com­bine. Ter­rific foot­work. Had suc­cess in both man and zone cov­er­age. Great quick­ness, av­er­age top-end speed. Lack of height may be an is­sue. “Play­ing in the SEC, I’ve cov­ered Amari Cooper, I’ve cov­ered Odell Beck­ham, I’ve cov­ered Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Benj amin,” Har­g­reaves said at the com­bine. “I’ve seen them all be­fore. That’s not to say that I’m ready nec­es­sar­ily, but it def­i­nitely helps to have cov­ered them be­fore, to have tracked them be­fore.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round 3. ELI AP­PLE Ohio State, 6-1, 199, 4.40 Low­down: Ap­ple skipped his fi­nal two sea­sons of col­lege football to en­ter the draft as a red­shirt sopho­more. He red­shirted dur­ing his first year on cam­pus and worked through an iron de­fi­ciency that de­stroyed his en­ergy lev­els and en­durance. Per­se­vered to de­velop into one of the bet­ter cor­ner­backs in the na­tion, start­ing 27 of the 28 games he played, and fin­ish­ing his ca­reer with All-Big Ten recog­ni­tion. Much more pro­duc­tive as a red­shirt fresh­man (53 tack­les, 10 pass breakups, three in­ter­cep­tions) than he was as a sopho­more (33 tack­les, eight pass breakups, three in­ter­cep­tions). Good size and arm length for the po­si­tion. Solid quick­ness. Hands are ag­gres­sive at the top of routes to knock balls away. Solid tack­ler, not great. Penal­ties bit of an is­sue. “That’s some­thing I’ve been watch­ing film on, mak­ing sure my hands are al­ways in the right place and mak­ing sure I don’t get flags un­nec­es­sar­ily,” Ap­ple said.

Pro­jec­tion: First round

4. WIL­LIAM JACKSON III Hous­ton, 6-0, 189, 4.37 Low­down: Jackson took a slightly cir­cuitous route to the cusp of the first round. He be­gan his ca­reer at Trinity Val­ley Com­mu­nity Col­lege and trans­ferred to Hous­ton for his fi­nal three years of el­i­gi­bil­ity. A ro­ta­tion player in 2013, Jackson emerged as a lock­down cor­ner for the Cougars dur­ing his fi­nal two sea­sons. Fin­ished sec­ond in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence with 10 pass breakups in 2014, then led the en­tire coun­try with 23 pass breakups in 2015. Good length for the po­si­tion. Tremen­dous speed, quick­ness and clos­ing speed, ev­i­denced by a 40 time that tied for third among cor­ners at the com­bine. Steady ball skills. Lacks phys­i­cal­ity and might get pushed around by stronger re­ceivers. Must get bet­ter in run sup­port.

Pro­jec­tion: First round

5. MACK­EN­SIE ALEXAN­DER

Clem­son, 5-10, 190, 4.47 Low­down: Alexan­der was con­sid­ered among the best play­ers in the en­tire coun­try com­ing out of high school, re­gard­less of po­si­tion. Ranked as the No. 4 over­all prospect by ESPN and be­came the high­est-rated player to sign with Clem­son since Da’Quan Bow­ers was No. 1 over­all in 2008. Red­shirted in 2013 be­fore blos­som­ing into a star the last two sea­sons. Did not have a sin­gle in­ter­cep­tion in 2014 or 2015, which Alexan­der said was a re­sult of sev­eral missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and plenty of games with­out many throws in his di­rec­tion. Bold, un­apolo­getic talker who does not hold back with the me­dia. Be­lieves he is the best cor­ner in the draft. Tremen­dous com­peti­tor. Al­lowed 29.6% com­ple­tions dur­ing his ca­reer. Good speed. Lacks height to play the out­side. Might be too bois­ter­ous for some teams. “This ain’t just me com­ing out here and speak­ing to you guys,” Alexan­der said at the com­bine. “I’m 22, but I’m ready, and I’m ready to com­pete with any­body. There’s no­body more ded­i­cated than me, who’s put more time and who’s more of a com­peti­tor than me.”

Pro­jec­tion: First or sec­ond round 6. AR­TIE BURNS Mi­ami, 6-0, 193, 4.46 Low­down: Burns was a stay-at-home kid who was a two-sport star — football and track— at pow­er­house Mi­ami North­west­ern Se­nior High School. He won mul­ti­ple state ti­tles as a hur­dler and pur­sued both sports in col­lege, ul­ti­mately earn­ing mul­ti­ple All-Amer­i­can hon­ors for both in­door and out­door re­sults. On the football field, Burns was a ro­ta­tion player and spe­cial teams con­trib­u­tor dur­ing his true fresh­man sea­son. Won a start­ing job each of the past two sea­sons be­fore en­ter­ing the NFL draft a year early. Led the ACC in in­ter­cep­tions with six last sea­son. Ex­tremely long arms for a cor­ner. Tre- men­dous athlete. Good ball skills. Still needs to de­velop his tech­nique and might be a project. Ef­fort is in­con­sis­tent dur­ing games. Raw tal­ent is im­mense.

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round

7. KEN­DALL FULLER

Vir­ginia Tech, 5-11, 187, NA Low­down: Fuller is a unique legacy story as the fourth and fi­nal brother to play at Vir­ginia Tech. His older sib­lings — Vin­cent (Ti­tans and Lions), Corey (Lions) and Kyle (Bears) — all made it to the NFL, and Ken­dall Fuller is next in line. Fuller was a three-year starter at Vir­ginia Tech and earned All-Amer­i­can recog­ni­tion in 2013 and 2014. His ju­nior sea­son was cut short by a torn menis­cus suf­fered early in 2015, sidelin­ing him for the ma­jor­ity of events at the com­bine. Al­ways winds up near the ball, ev­i­denced by 34 pass breakups and eight in­ter­cep­tions dur­ing his fresh­man and sopho­more sea­sons. Knows how to use his body well, which is im­por­tant given a slightly smaller frame. Arms are a touch short. Takes chances. “My knee’s do­ing re­ally well,” Fuller said at the com­bine. “Feel like I’m about 90%. I’m do­ing pretty much ev­ery­thing. Do­ing a lot of drills, do­ing cut­ting, plant­ing, things like that.”

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round

8. XAVIEN HOWARD

Bay­lor, 6-0, 201, 4.58 Low­down: Howard spent two years wait­ing for his op­por­tu­nity at Bay­lor, fi­nally earn­ing a start­ing role in 2014. He re­ceived All-Big-12 recog­ni­tion in each of the last two sea­sons and led his team in in­ter­cep­tions twice. His 10 ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions rank 10th in Bay­lor his­tory. Con­sen­sus first-team All-Big-12 per­former in 2015, when he in­ter­cepted five passes and recorded 10 pass breakups. Good ac­cel­er­a­tion in close quar­ters al­lows him to be suc­cess­ful in press cov­er­age. Played with­out much safety help. Ball skills are eas­ily no­tice­able. Top-end speed re­mains a ques­tion. Penal­ties were a big-time prob­lem the last two years be­cause of his overly phys­i­cal style of play. Ran a bit slow at the com­bine.

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond or third round

9. WILL REDMOND Mis­sis­sippi State, 5-11, 182, NA

Low­down: Redmond might be a tricky prospect for front of­fices to eval­u­ate given a very small sam­ple size on tape. A red­shirt sea­son in 2012 and a deep re­serve role in 2013 meant Redmond did not get on the field con­sis­tently un­til two years ago, and even then he was a backup cor­ner. He served as the nick­el­back in 2014, mak­ing 51 tack­les and post­ing a team-high three in­ter­cep­tions. When he fi­nally earned a start­ing role as a se­nior in 2015, Redmond suf­fered a torn ACL in prac­tice on Oct. 20. Good ath­leti­cism and quick­ness. Plays very ag­gres­sive. Un­der­sized for the po­si­tion. Re­cov­ery from ACL in­jury calls into ques­tion his avail­abil­ity for the start of 2016. Pro­jec­tion: Third round

10. SEAN DAVIS

Mary­land, 6-1, 201, 4.46 Low­down: Davis split time be­tween safety and cor­ner dur­ing a four-year ca­reer at Mary­land. He de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a vi­cious hit­ter with mas­sive pro­duc­tion, fin­ish­ing with more than 100 tack­les as a sopho­more and a ju­nior. Fin­ished sec­ond in the na­tion in 2015 with five forced fum­bles, which was the sec­ond-high­est to­tal in Mary­land his­tory. Ter­rific frame for a cor­ner­back with plenty of mus­cle. Ran a crisp 40 time for some­one his size. Showed his strength with 21 reps on the bench press, most among cor­ners at the com­bine. Prob­a­bly bet­ter at safety than cor­ner, even though he lined up at the lat­ter quite of­ten dur­ing his se­nior year. Re­ally strug­gled in man cov­er­age at times. Mas­sive hits off­set by plenty of big plays al­lowed. Could be used as a util­ity man in the NFL with roles as a safety and big cor­ner.

Pro­jec­tion: Third round BEST OF THE REST

11. Cyrus Jones, Alabama; 12. KeiVarae Rus­sell, Notre Dame; 13. Har­lan Miller, South­east­ern Louisiana; 14. Rashard Robin­son, Louisiana State; 15. Jonathan Jones, Auburn

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jalen Ram­sey was the first true fresh­man to start at cor­ner­back for Florida State since Deion San­ders in 1985.

JOSHUA S. KELLY / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Clem­son’s Mack­en­sie Alexan­der was con­sid­ered among the best play­ers com­ing out of high school.

Burns

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