2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Cornerback
In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the cornerback position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.
This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.
#21 Charles Woodson
34 yrs. old / 13 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2014
#38 Tramon Williams
28 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2014
#37 Sam Shields
23 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
#24 Jarrett Bush
26 yrs. old / 5 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011
#22 Pat Lee
27 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011
#28 Brandon Underwood
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
#40 Josh Gordy
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
26 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com
Many NFL analysts have said that the Green Bay Packers have the best secondary in the league, and it all begins with the cornerbacks. Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields are three players that no quarterback wants to face.
Charles Woodson, the 2009 AP Defensive Player of the Year, was undoubtedly Ted Thompson’s best free agent signing ever. He is the Packers’ Troy Polamalu – a guy who is everywhere and does everything on the field. Though his man-to-man cover skills have receded, Woodson’s ability to disrupt plays from the line have made him invaluable.
In his past three years with the team, Woodson accumulated 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, 7 sacks, and 6 touchdowns. He is also credited with 48 passes defended in that span of time.
After Woodson is the best cover corner in Green Bay and perhaps the league: Tramon Williams. (But you can just call him “Tramon.”) His leap from “Admiral Armbar” to shutdown corner made a huge difference for this team. Counting the postseason, Tramon was credited with 24 passes defended, 9 interceptions, one forced fumble, a touchdown, and even a sack. His dedication and determination are proof that he will continue this level of production in years to come.
Finally, the young Sam Shields was a pleasant surprise for both the coaches and fans. This undrafted rookie only played a single season as cornerback in college, but he had a hunger for learning and improving at what he did. With the help of his veteran teammates and coaches, he studied and worked hard. Combined with his speed and athleticism, the “Florida Flash” became a force to be reckoned with.
Shields essentially filled the role of starter in a system where Dom Capers played primarily in the nickel. And really, Shield’s level of play allowed Capers to do this. Despite being a rookie, opposing quarterbacks couldn’t just throw towards him and expect the receiver to be open.
The one thing that makes all three of these players great, though, is their study habits. They consider their preparation to be just as important as their performance, and it shows. From studying the playbook to watching film, these Packers cornerbacks know what it takes to be an elite unit.
Unfortunately, the weaknesses at this position are very apparent once you get past the Woodson-Williams-Shields trifecta.
Jarrett Bush has made it clear that special teams is his forte. And while he has made some great strides in that regard, his abilities as a cornerback still leave a lot to be desired. Fans hold their collective breath whenever he takes the field on defense, even as the dimeback. Something just always seems to go wrong when he’s in coverage.
(Bush did, however, surprise a lot of people with his aggressive interception during Super Bowl XLV.)
Then there’s Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood. These drafted hopefuls have been pretty big disappointments since they were signed with the Packers. Lee has some value as a gunner on special teams, but Underwood just simply hasn’t risen to the task in any regard. These two definitely have a lot to prove if they want to make the team next year.
Even though you would be hard pressed to find a team with good depth at cornerback, it’s clear that the Packers are one of those teams without it. If there is one thing they could improve at this position, it would be having quality depth. As we saw in the Super Bowl when Woodson and Shields were lost in action, not having adequate backups severely limits the defense as a whole when their numbers are called.
Since his pinnacle performance last year, Charles Woodson has been a primary subject of speculation. He will be turning 35 in October, and as he ages, his ability to cover younger, bigger, and faster receivers is called into question. Thus, many are wondering how much longer he’ll be playing the role of cornerback.
Some people have suggested – and even Woodson claimed he would be open to this “for the team” – that he could be moved to the safety position and still work in a similar capacity. Others contend that he has already kind of been in that role and that the Packers can work him as a cornerback until he retires.
Either way, Ted Thompson needs to start looking for a replacement soon. Shields has been the exception to the fact that most cornerbacks take a good amount of time to develop into starting roles. Tramon is a prime example, as it took him until his fourth year to finally reach his potential. So the sooner the Packers can find their future corner, the better.
The other uncertainty is the group of Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee, and Brandon Underwood. While Bush is heading into his final contract year, there is some promise of him being re-signed on his special teams merits.
Lee is also in his last contract year, but he and Underwood, as stated above, have been disappointments. Underwood’s abilities at corner were even being touted during training camp. Despite that, he ended up falling flat in his contributions to the unit.
The question is: will they improve at all? Tramon, and even Bush, showed the difference a year can make. But will it make a difference for Underwood and Lee? If it does, then the Packers would be fairly well set going into next season. If it doesn’t, then there are some real concerns about the future of the position.
Finally, it will be interesting to see the development of Josh Gordy, who was signed in September and made some limited contributions on special teams.
URGENCY OF NEEDS: Medium / Low
Let’s face it, for all his success in other areas, Ted Thompson has pretty much been a failure when it comes to drafting cornerbacks. Sure, he found some amazing gems in his three starters, but all of them were free agent signings. So if you’re looking for Thompson to find the next Charles Woodson in the draft, don’t hold your breath.
Of course, that doesn’t change the needs of the position, which I see as medium to low.
The biggest thing Thompson will be looking for this year is depth and future starters. Barring anything extreme happening, the Packers will continue to have their three starters in Woodson, Williams, and Shields. And ideally, they will be able to pick up a player or two that can compete for one of the back-up roles.
That said, I doubt a cornerback will be drafted by Green Bay this year, unless the Packers happen to be in just the right position to take one. Thompson will be more likely to add an undrafted free agent.
*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Cornerbacks” by Thomas Hobbes. ***——————Follow @ChadToporski