Let me say that from all accounts Kevin King appears to be a good person and well liked teammate, and that my assessment of his on-field play is meant in no way to denigrate Kevin King as an individual. I really appreciated King’s introspective..almost vulnerable press conference late in training camp where he talked about making up for his miscues and wanting his skills to speak for themselves. Unfortunately the mounting injuries and ineffectiveness have led me to one conclusion: Packers cornerback Kevin King is cooked.
Kevin King is one of the last vestiges of Ted Thompson’s later years as GM, and one of his more noteworthy misses. In 2017, Thompson of course passed on the opportunity to draft pass rusher TJ Watt and traded back to the 2nd round to draft King out of the University of Washington. It’s easy to see why Thompson liked King, he offered a tantalizing combo of freakish height for the position (6’3”) and strong speed (4.43 40 yd). Thompson rolled the dice that King’s extensive injury history at Washington (which precipitated his 2nd round tumble) wouldn’t hold him back at the next level.
King has certainly had his moments of above average play for the green & gold, but is more well known for his spectacular flameouts and time spent on the trainers table (playing in only 41 of 64 career games entering 2021). In 2019 King had a career year, playing in 15 games and tallying five interceptions to go along with 56 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
I, for one, thought that 2019 was finally the year the stars had aligned for King and that 2020 would be a banner season for him as he entered contract extension territory. As we know, the injury bug bit again, culminating in a less-than-healthy King getting scorched by Tom Brady & co. in the NFC championship game.
I think Kevin King arrived as damaged goods in Green Bay and his health has done nothing but betray him during his stay. When you’re watching King play he seems almost timid, like he’s playing not to get hurt. He’s not the first cornerback to be lacking in physicality, but King also doesn’t have the luxury of relying on blazing speed or fluidity to win with finesse.
The Packers cannot continue to send King to the slaughter. He can’t play off coverage, he can’t play man to man without safety help and he can’t tackle. Through two games of the 2021 season, it’s fair to ask if having King on the field in any capacity helps the Packers.
I’ve made it this far and haven’t mentioned Packers 2021 first round addition, Eric Stokes. Stokes, a rookie cornerback out of Georgia ran the second fastest 40 yard dash overall in this year’s NFL combine at 4.29 seconds. Like King, Stokes is a long corner at 6’1”, but weighs almost 20 pounds more than the slightly built King. Traditionally cornerback is one of the positions where rookies struggle to acclimate to the speed and technicality of the NFL. Stokes has certainly looked the part through two regular season games, tallying 3 passes defensed in 52 snaps against the Saints and Lions.
If the Packers choose to insert Stokes into the starting lineup the rest of the season, there will undoubtedly be gaffes and teachable moments. Stokes is still relatively new to the position as he has only been playing corner since his senior high school season, but his raw talents alone already make him the second best option on the roster.
If Stokes gets turned around he has the speed to make up ground on just about any receiver in the league. He has shown a good feel for the position already getting his hand in on pass breakups which is a promising sign. Stokes is also not afraid of physicality, using his size to stick his nose in and blow up a pass catcher or running back…much like another corner on the roster.
The one reservation the Packers may have is that playing corner at the highest level is not just about physical tools, it’s about processing information very quickly and having a strong knowledge of tendencies. Stokes doesn’t have that knowledge yet, but I have a feeling he’ll be getting a crash course in it soon.
Kevin King took snaps covering the slot this past Monday night and seemed to grow somewhat comfortable as the game wore on. While I personally think we know what we can expect from King at this point, he is being paid to contribute and he will see the field in some fashion IF he is healthy. Perhaps moving him inside will ease some of the mental aspects of the game and make it easier to just react to what’s in front of him. Maybe the Packers will give him a look as a centerfield-type safety in hopes of keeping everyone in front of him.
I’ve grown tired of hearing that the Packers defense needs time to gel. That Joe Barry needs time to introduce his scheme variations, his verbiage etc. As we witnessed this off-season, the time to compete for a championship is now and the best players need to be on the field. The Packers have played two games of shaky defensive football thanks in part to Kevin King and it’s only going to get tougher from here. Eric Stokes gives the Packers the best chance to succeed, rookie warts and all. He needs to see a large share of snaps starting this Sunday night against a healthy and unyielding 49ers team.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.