It is highly unusual for an NFL team to use both a first and second-round draft choice in the same draft on players of the same position. So why did the Green Bay Packers go with two cornerbacks with its first two picks in 2015?
Actually they didn’t. First-rounder Damarious Randall was a safety. And therein might be the source of the deficiency that the Atlanta Falcons exploited last weekend.
Ted Thompson and his scouting team were not the only ones who thought Randall was too small (then at 196 pounds) to be a safety. From the beginning, Thompson planned to convert Randall to a cornerback.
Following the draft, Thompson had this to say:
“I don’t know how that will work, but I’m looking at him as a corner today. If next week we decided he’s a safety, then it doesn’t matter. He’s still going to be on the field a lot of the time.”
Here are some weaknesses of Randall that were posted on the NFL’s web site at draft time: instincts as a free safety are average… needs technique work in coverage… must learn line-of-scrimmage skills and work on coordinating feet and hips… allows wideouts to eat up cushion.
I would add that a few days ago a TP commenter noted that Randall rounds off his movements when his defender changes direction, rather than making sharp and quick directional changes — an accurate observation.
On the other hand, a number of scouts projected Randall as the top safety in the 2015 draft.
I’ve compared Randall’s NFL Combine scores with the nine cornerbacks chosen in rounds one and two of the 2015 draft. Those chosen ahead of Randall were Trae Waynes by the Vikings (11th), Kevin Johnson by the Texans (16th), Marcus Peters by Kansas City (18th), and Byron Jones by the Cowboys (27th).
Randall’s 40-yard dash time (4.46), his 10-yard split time (1.58), and his 20-yard short shuttle (agility) time (4.07) are right in there with the others.
While Minnesota’s Waynes had a blazing dash time (4.31), the star who has emerged from the group is Marcus Peters, who was the league’s defensive rookie of the year, made the Pro Bowl both years, and was named first-team All Pro this year. Those who hate all this metrics stuff will be glad to know Peters had only a 4.53 dash time.
Though Randall has the raw physical attributes to play the position, maybe he has failed to learn or utilize the necessary cornerback techniques in the two years he’s had to make the conversion.
In college at Arizona State, Randall was considered physical, aggressive, and a great tackler despite being undersized. Now he plays soft, looks timid, and seems to actually go out of his way to avoid contact. For sure, he never puts up any line-of scrimmage resistance.
Almost certainly there is a mental component to Randall’s problem – or how could he have had an adequate year as a rookie cornerback in 2015? He looks like one who has completely lost his confidence, but that can be harder to cure than trying to learn new techniques.
Whatever the explanation, in the NFC Championship game we had strong, but horrifying visual evidence of how Thompson’s risky choice has played out.
In my opinion, two years should be enough time to have gotten Randall up to speed regarding the cornerback position. I can see taking a chance with, say, a fifth-rounder, but not using the 30th overall pick of the draft for experimentation. The effort must be deemed a failure.
Randall’s inadequacies were fully exposed by the Falcons’ receivers, as well as by the Cowboys a week before. Randall was the Achilles’ heel of a team that had gotten pretty good by year’s end.
Given Randall’s poor play, keeping him in there at cornerback for both of the team’s last two games also constitutes a vote of non-confidence by Mike McCarthy for Quinten Rollins. He’s the cornerback the team chose right after Randall in the second round of that same draft. That makes the cornerback situation — and Ted Thompson’s choices — doubly disturbing.
The Packers ought to switch Randall over to being free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s backup, or cut their losses entirely – though experience tells us that Ted never admits failure regarding a high draft choice in fewer than four years.