At first glance, the college career of Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall seems to have justified his first-round draft selection by Ted Thompson. He was a first-team All-Pac 12 player at Arizona State as a senior and many scouts thought he was the best safety available in 2015.
Randall quickly became a starter as a rookie for the Packers, taking over the spot occupied for many years by Tramon Williams. In nine starts in 2015, he had 58 tackles, 14 passes defended and three interceptions. Packers fans were pleased.
In 2016, he was plagued by a series of injuries, including a groin injury that caused him to miss six games. His numbers on the year fell to 39 tackles, nine passes defended and three interceptions.
But the real story was that his coverage was no longer tight. Almost all observers agree he rarely tried to disrupt receivers at the line. He would start out 10 yards off the line and immediately begin back-pedaling. He seemed reluctant to make tackles and he seldom played with any physicality.
On, say, a 3rd-and-7, if his receiver ran a slant toward the middle, Randall would trail him at a distance and concede the first down (or touchdown). He was at his very worst during the playoffs, when the TV broadcasters marveled at his almost complete lack of effort at pass defense.
It’s too early to completely write off Randall, but clearly a lot of scouts overrated him, while some appear to have been right on the money.
The NFL’s website offered this draft analysis:
“Randall is what today’s free safety is all about. He is by far the best cover safety in this draft. Randall can play man-to-man; he has cornerback-level cover skills. You give up some physicality, but his coverage ability is where the NFL is going.”
At one time, draft prognosticator Mike Mayock had as his top safety prospects in 2015 as: 1. Randall; 2. Landon Collins, Alabama; 3. Shaq Thompson, Washington; and 4. Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio).
Bleacher Report’s Ryan Riddle was among those who had a different take.
Though Randall was near the top in many of the NFL Combine’s testing categories, he was measured at only 5’11” and 196 pounds. Riddle noted his “slender frame” and concluded that he “equals out to be a very small safety.” The Packers must have thought the same, but concluded he had adequate size to be a cornerback.
While his number of tackles at Arizona State impressed most scouts, Riddle felt he profited from a blitz-heavy scheme and that most of these were ankle tackles. Riddle then got to the heart of the matter: “More important than his smaller stature here is that his mentality seems to match his size.” He explained further:
“Randall doesn’t have the instincts required to play safety despite racking up a number of tackles in 2014. He can often be seen missing tackles and taking bad angles as well, which often led to big plays by the opponent… In general, he is not a physical player and will do his best to keep his jersey clean. Big hits will not be a part of his repertoire and he is a major risk to be run over by bigger, more physical players in the NFL… you also get a guy who takes ill-advised risks, has poor functional strength and avoids physicality to a degree.”
Riddle tabbed Landon Collins as his top safety prospect of 2015. Collins, in his second year with the Giants, was first-team All-Pro. Collins was the 33rd overall selection in the 2015 draft – three picks behind Randall.
Which player will show up in 2017, the promising 2015 safety-turned-cornerback or the 2016 version that Pro football Focus rated 109 out of 112 NFL cornerbacks? The team’s chances for success in 2017 might hinge on this question more than on any other factor.