With the Green Bay Packers boasting one of the highest return percentages for starters from last season in the NFL, the defensive backfield is perhaps the area of the team that is most wide-open. Two important pieces of last year’s squad that were lost were cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House. In an effort to replace those losses, the Packers invested their first two picks in the 2015 draft into that position, and also brought a bevvy of young, undrafted talent into camp this year. There is perhaps no other area on the team that will be harder to predict come roster cut-downs. And when you add in things like Micah Hyde’s ability to play safety and corner, or the uncertainty of Casey Hayward’s ability to move from the slot to the outside, it becomes even more difficult to forecast who will be left standing for the season opener against the Chicago Bears.
There are a few players at the cornerback and safeties positions who should be pretty much locked into making the team. Sam Shields is the most able starter at corner and was paid as such when inking a 4 year, $39 million contract with the team last March. Casey Hayward has yet to make the jump that his promising rookie year suggested back in 2012, but he will certainly make the team, perhaps as the #2 CB. After Shields and Hayward, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are locks due to draft pedigree alone, though Rollins has certainly been one of the more talked about young players in camp thus far. Finally, Micah Hyde has been extremely valuable to the team in his first two seasons, and is likely to see joint time at both safety and cornerback.
At safety, Morgan Burnett and 2014 first rounder HaHa Clinton-Dix are locks. Sean Richardson appears quite likely to make the team, as well. But after this short list, spots seem to be up for grabs.
Undrafted rookie Ladarius Gunter and 2014 draft selection Demetri Goodson certainly have the edge on whatever cornerback spots remain. It remains to be seen, however, how many backs Green Bay keeps. Do both have a legitimate shot at making the team, or are they likely battling each other for one spot?
Much seems to depend upon how the Packers plan to utilize Micah Hyde. Hyde has proven himself to be a reliable tackler and slot corner, but he’s also contributed well at the safety position. Clearly he will expected to be ready to contribute at either position based upon injuries and week-to-week matchups, but if Hyde is expected to play most of his snaps at corner, it could spell the end of the road (at least in Green Bay) for either Gunter or Goodson.
Let’s look at how the roster shakes out if Hyde is needed as a vital part of the cornerback corps.
CB: Shields, Hayward, Hyde, Randall, Rollins, Goodson, Gunter
S: Burnett, Clinton-Dix, Richardson, Banjo/Fanor
With Hyde locked in at starting or slot corner for most games, the Packers will almost certainly keep either Chris Banjo or Jean Fanor. There is simply no way that the team would go with only 3 guys available at the safety spot. However, this leaves the team with 11 defensive backs. In recent memory, the Packers have kept only 10 or 9 defensive backs. With a deep group this year, 10 is probably a safe bet, but that would mean the unfortunate loss of either Goodson or Gunter, with both players having solid camps thus far.
But would the Packers venture to keep only Burnett, Clinton-Dix, and Richardson at safety if Hyde could be counted on more exclusively at the safety position? While such a move could leave the Packers vulnerable at safety if injuries arise, it would allow the team to keep 7 corners, meaning that Gunter and Goodson (or any other ascending corner) could both be kept and developed, a move which could pay dividends down the line.
It’s likely that the coaching staff’s intentions with Hyde will depend upon a few extrinsic factors. How well do Goodson and Gunter finish out the preseason? Is it worth keeping both? If so, can one be stashed on the practice squad? At the moment, either (and especially Gunter) would seem to be good candidates to be poached by other teams.
Another key factor will be how fast Randall and Rollins are brought up to speed with the NFL game. Can either be expected to adequately hold down the fort as a nickel or possibly even starting corner if/when Hyde is needed at safety? Ultimately this question may come down to Hyde’s maneuverability.
One key aspect of football is the need to build a roster based upon position rather than straight up talent. Often times teams are forced to cut players that they value highly, perhaps even higher than other players who end up making the team. But these decisions are not made by comparing players merely as athletes. Successful football teams are built as a cohesive unit of complementary position groups rather than a list of the 53 best athletes that the team can field.
With that being said, the most successful teams find ways to do both to the best of their ability, i.e. to not be forced into letting talent walk simply to fill out the depth chart. The best teams are well-rounded and resourceful enough to not be forced into forsaking talent for necessary numbers at each position. And therein lies, perhaps, the greatest asset of Micah Hyde. His separate play at corner and safety have been solid, but perhaps his versatility is his greatest value to the team. At the very least, his play has contributed to the coaching staff’s flexibility to field its best players this season.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.