Green Bay Packers Off-Season Positional Review: Cornerbacks

In the final installment of my Green Bay Packers off-season positional review series, I’m going to be writing about arguably the greatest strength on the team; the cornerback group.

Next week I’ll be doing my one and only mock draft of the off-season with defense of my selections.

Packers' DBs Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander
Packers’ DBs Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander

Jaire Alexander

2021 was a bit of a lost of season for the Packers CB1 Jaire Alexander after he sustained a significant shoulder injury in week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Alexander didn’t make his next appearance until the divisional playoff round against the 49ers where he only played 15% of defensive snaps.

The important thing is that Alexander is healthy now and ready to lead the NFL’s best secondary. 

With a strong 2022 season, Alexander could very well see himself atop the rankings as the league’s best cover man, and with that a new contract fitting of his lockdown status. 

Astonishingly, Alexander turned just 25 years old on February 9th and is entering his prime years. 

So what kind of contract could Alexander be looking at? He’ll quite likely be resetting the market at the position, but here are some recent comps:

Jalen Ramsey — LA Rams: Ramsey signed a 5 year, $100 million dollar contract extension in 2020 with $43.7 million guaranteed. Ramsey inked his new deal in September of 2020, a few days shy of his 26th birthday

Marlon Humphrey — Baltimore Ravens: 5 year, $97.5 million dollar extension signed October of 2020 with $40.3 million guaranteed. 

JC Jackson — LA Chargers: 5 year, $82.5 million dollar contract with $40 million guaranteed. 

Jackson is probably the most useful comp of the group considering he inked his deal during this off-season’s free agency period, but while he’s a great player he’s not viewed in the same light as a player like Alexander. 

If the Packers front office is smart, they’ll get the deal done sooner than later. Undoubtedly, there will be other high dollar extensions for corners coming between now and the end of camp, I’d rather be the “record setting deal” at the beginning of the cycle, and not the end.

While I fully support signing Jaire Alexander long term, he’s not without risk. 

Alexander’s physical playing style coupled with his relatively slight build has spelled injury issues over the years. 

My guess would be a contract for 5 years around $115 million with $50 million guaranteed. (And 17 void years to get his cap hit to 2 million for 2023!) 

Eric Stokes 

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst shocked many NFL Draft pundits (and Packer fans) with his selection of cornerback Eric Stokes out of the University of Georgia with the 29th pick in last years draft. 

Stokes was seen as an elite athlete but not a polished corner by any stretch, with a propensity to grab jersey’s instead of using his blazing speed to his advantage (read: Carroll, Ahmad).

Many prognosticators thought Stokes batterymate at UGA, Tyson Campbell, was the more complete player or even Asante Samuel Jr. from Florida State, both of whom were still on the board when the Packers selected Stokes. 

Stokes was pressed into duty much earlier than expected following the injury (and inefficacy) of Kevin King. 

He performed better than anyone could have hoped, making a nearly seamless transition from raw rookie prospect to NFL starting cornerback. 

The scariest part about Stokes is that for as well as he performed, he hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling. 

One of the knocks against Stokes coming out of Georgia was his lack of interceptions (only 4 picks in 31 collegiate games). 

The hope is that the more comfortable Stokes gets with trusting his coverage abilities, the more his ball skills will improve.

You have to think with Jaire Alexander on the other side of the field, Stokes will see numerous opportunities to create turnovers. 

Let’s hope he turns more of those break-ups and deflections into INTs. 

Luckily for Stokes, the Packers re-signed a guy who knows quite a bit about taking away the football…

Rasul Douglas 

I’m starting to think Brian Gutekunst knows what he’s doing as an NFL talent evaluator. /sarcasm 

After “reaching” to draft Eric Stokes, BG signed a guy in Rasul Douglas who had been cast aside by three differrent organizations in the past two years.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical that Rasul Douglas could provide anything for the Packers when he was signed off of the Cardinals practice squad, let nearly erase the departure of Jaire Alexander. 

What Douglas did in his 12 games with the Packers was nothing short of brilliant. 

He totaled 5 interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.

He came up biggest in the clutch with game sealing picks against the Cardinals (his former team), the Browns and a pick-6 against the eventual Super Bowl champion LA Rams. 

Douglas was rewarded with a new 3 year, $21 million dollar deal on the eve of free agency, keeping him in Green Bay until 2024. 

So the burning question is: was the 2021 season a mirage or did the Packers find something in Rasul Douglas that three other organizations missed? 

The short answer: I’m not sure it matters. 

Even if Douglas only plays at 75% the level he did in 2021 that would still be excellent for the third corner in a stacked secondary. 

Maybe a little of ‘Sul’s ballhawking prowess will rub off on his defensive backfield mates? 

Shemar Jean-Charles

The 2021 5th round rookie out of Appalachian State comes into the ’22 season as a total unknown. 

In college, Jean-Charles dominated Sun Belt Conference competition, leading the nation in passes defensed while being voted the Sun Belt player of the year. 

At 5’10, 184, he’s a little bit undersized, but the primary issue is that he’s a limited athlete.

It’s okay to be that size if you’re Jaire Alexander and run a 4.30 40 yd dash and hit like a freight train, but not if you’re stiff in the hips with a 42nd percentile RAS score and a 40 time north of 4.5 seconds. 

The Packers didn’t draft Jean-Charles to be an alpha. They selected him to be a reliable nickel corner who could provide a little upside while playing special teams, and I think that’s well within his profile. 

He only saw the field on defense last season for 34 total snaps, but did play 64% of special teams snaps (for better or worse!)

There’s an outside chance that the Packers end up with a player like Jalen Pitre (S, Baylor) or Daxton Hill (S/CB, Michigan), both of which could eat up nickel coverage snaps and relegate Jean-Charles to picking up the scraps.

The Packers scouts liked Jean-Charles well enough to select him in the fifth round when many had much lower grade, my guess is unless he’s been a total disaster during practice sessions he won’t be actively fighting for his job in training camp, but it would go a long way to show up to camp ready to make a splash. 

Depth

Kabion Ento — Ento is a converted wide receiver out of the University of Colorado. Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Packers in 2019, he’s got prototypical size at 6’1, 218 and has shown enough to hang around for a couple of seasons. Ento profiles as a career reserve/special teamer, but crazier things have happened with WR converts like our old friend Sam Shields. 

Keisean Nixon — Most well known as being the nephew of Snoop Dogg, Nixon was signed by the Packers in late March of this year. He played his college ball at South Carolina and was signed by an undrafted free agent by the Raiders in 2019 and does have a little bit of game experience. 

Kiondre Thomas — Thomas played in college at Kansas State, signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent last year. He’s got prototypical size at 5’11, 186 with a 4.44 40 time. 

Summary

If they don’t add a single player between now and week 1 of the 2022 regular season, the Packers are going to field one of the NFL’s most fearsome secondaries. 

Pass rush and coverage have a symbiotic relationship, and the only thing that could make this cornerback group even better would be by adding another dynamic pass rusher to affect QB decision making. 

I don’t foresee the Packers using any premium draft capital on a pure cornerback, but as I mentioned above I would not be surprised if they added a do-it-all safety type that could take some snaps at nickel corner. 

Assuming a reasonable degree of health for this unit, they will continue to be the foundation of the defense. 

If not, they can always give Kevin King a call! 

You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.

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