Lambeau Leap of Faith

March 16, 2010 3:04 AM

Position of Need, Part III: Cornerbacks

In the last volume of this series, I made some assertions without really explaining where I was coming from, so I want to lay out my position and the foundation of my perspective:

  1. I use Scouts, Inc., to rate my draft prospects not because they are nigh infallible, but because I find every source fallible and they are easily accessible on ESPN. Draft evaluations are so based on conjecture that even those who work for teams make huge mistakes, so why should we get worked up over one "expert" vs. another unless there is a clear difference in knowledge, as there is between Mel Kiper, Jr. (overrated) and Todd McShay?
  2. I do not get a chance to see a lot of college football, but this does not mean there are not ways to accurately assess players. I have to rely a little more on measurable things, like production stats (which hurts me in evaluating offensive linemen), size, weight-lifting, 40-yard dash and shuttle times. I welcome those who can bring in first-hand experience watching players, but I also caution people against that: NCAA players are often dominant until they reach the NFL, when more of their competition is their size or speed.
  3. Which leads to another reason all draft evaluations are educated guesses: variables. This guy achieved these stats but against only this level of competition, and that conference is more pass-happy than this one, and he had this much help at his position or somewhere else on the team...I do my best to explore these, but cannot list all of them or the article becomes a book (much like this one is in danger of becoming).
  4. I am here to examine all options, and in doing so, I am not endorsing each of them. The most prevalent example of this was when I explored the option of moving A.J. Hawk back to the outside; I in fact advised against it, but that was missed on some of those who commented, so I ask you to please read all of the article before attributing something to me I did not say.

Why do I care? I do not know, but I have never liked being misrepresented. Call it a personality flaw, but I hope that making this clear from the start will help avoid that coming up and save me some time.

Having already addressed the team's two biggest needs, I now move on to our third, cornerback.

I am not of the opinion that this is a major weakness for the team. Three of the Packers six corners were hurt at the end of the season, and that is why they were exploited the two times they faced deep receiving corps with championship quarterbacks (Pittsburgh and Arizona).

Lesser offenses were still unable to gash this defense. However, if the Packers are going to contend for the Super Bowl (the only goal worth setting for a team that has already made the playoffs), they will face these teams.

Moreover, since two of those corners were hurt in each of the last two years, there is reason to think there is a pattern developing. Following his first two seasons ever shortened by injury, it would be foolish to count on Al Harris. While Tramon Williams has already proven he can handle stepping into the starting position, it is uncertain whether Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Will Blackmon can all be ready to play regularly should there be a second injury at the position.

Even with two injuries, if only one is to the top three, I have faith that one of the other three can step up and be the dimeback and another maybe is to be a nickelback. But maybe is not good enough, so the Packers should get someone they feel comfortable putting in for nickel packages--this automatically means a Day One draft pick, since few rookies taken later are good enough for that role.

As stated in my last article, there is a good chance that the best outside linebackers are not going to be there at No.23, and this makes cornerback a likely first-round pick. That would also be a better option than getting a free agent cornerback, as the best cornerbacks are already signed by someone else, and those left would command more money than the Packers are willing to pay for a third corner.

Plus, with both Charles Woodson and Al Harris on the wrong side of 30, this is one of the few positions in which the youngest team in the league needs youth. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of first round picks out there; however, there is a good chance that Kyle Wilson and/or Kareem Jackson will be available, and either of them would be capable of playing the nickel.

Wilson is smallish (5'10", listed between 190 and 194 lbs. depending on the source) and from a very successful Boise State team that wins big games but does not play many of them. His lack of size can be covered at nickel, he possesses the speed to handle the slot (4.42 40-yard dash time), and has been described as competitive and tough. His stock is on the rise, and best of all has a lot of potential as a returner, an area of great need for the Packers.

Jackson is basically the same size (5'11" and listed in various places between 192 and 195 lbs.) but has more big game experience and in a more NFL-style defense at Alabama. He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, so he is not quite as fast as Wilson. He also had fewer bench press reps at 225 lbs. (13 vs. 25!), and while I do not consider this a major stat for cornerback, such a marked difference is. Furthermore, he lacks the potential as a returner that Wilson has; the only advantage is he is younger.

In contrast to Scouts, Inc., I do not see him as a first-round pick even though his stock is on the rise, as well; I would want the Packers only to take him if they trade down in the draft. In that case, they may as well pick Devin McCourty, another corner some places rate higher than Jackson who is about the same size and speed but has been a standout on special teams at Rutgers.

Nevertheless, Wilson is the right man for the job, and if he is available he should be drafted. No other needs are as pressing as the top three positions I listed, leaving my top choices for the draft as follows (in order):

The single most likely prospect to be in a Packers uniform is Kyle
The single most likely prospect to be in a Packers uniform is Kyle Wilson
  1. Offensive tackle is the most important need, and the best chance to get a starter there is Trent Williams, assuming that Russell Okung, Anthony Davis, and Brian Bulaga are not available without giving away too much (a safe assumption since all are projected to be taken more than six spots ahead of the Packers' No. 23 selection). I have seen a few sources actually projecting him to fall to Green Bay, meaning unless he goes early the team could trade up at a reasonable cost.
  2. Brandon Graham is the best available outside linebacker, but he is expected to be off the board by the time the Packers pick. If a trade up for him is not especially costly, he would be worth it, because to me he is the only player that offers a sure upgrade over Brad Jones.
  3. Kyle Wilson would give the Packers an upgrade in a position of immediate need (CB), a less important position of great need (returner), and be a solution for what will be of great need in the near future. Chances are pretty good that Green Bay can get him if the cost to move up for another player is too high.
  4. If all else fails, trading down is the logical solution, because no one else who will help at any of these positions is probably worth a first-round pick much less one in the third-quarter of that round. Take the best value trade someone offers to move up to No. 23 and just take the best player available between OT Bruce Campbell, OLB Jerry Hughes, and CB Devin McCourty--one of them will definitely still be there in the first four picks of the second round.
  5. Other possibilities include Jackson, OLB Jerry Hughes of TCU, OT Charles Brown of USC, OLB Sergio Kindle of Texas, and DE Everson Griffen of USC (would play OLB in a 3-4).

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