Bumper crop of corners could pass by
Packers set at position with Shields as No. 1
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
Jalen Ramsey was the first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders in 1985.
Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander was considered among the best players coming out of high school.