When it comes to NFL drafts, a team’s success or failure is often measured by the choices made in the first two rounds. In the Green Bay Packers’ case, it would be hard not to compare who the team chose this year with who they picked back in 2015.
It was remarkable that in 2015, the Packers used their first two selections to pick two defensive backs. It’s doubly remarkable that they did the same thing in 2017.
2015 Top Two Draft Picks
The two players chosen by Ted Thompson in rounds 1 and 2 of 2015 were Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
Randall did better than average at the NFL Combine, but there was nothing about his size, appearance or college statistics that really jumped out at you. Maybe the Packers should have been more concerned about his slim college portfolio.
To begin with, Randall spent his first year at Butler Community College – playing baseball. His next year he switched over to the pigskin, but again played at the community college level, at Mesa CC. That left him with only one and two-thirds years at Arizona State, as he missed the first four games of his junior year due to an injured leg.
In his junior year, Randall didn’t amass any honors, but as a senior he was named a first-team all-conference player. Solely based on one solid year, the Packers went with him in the first round.
Quinten Rollins, chosen No. 62 overall in the second round, has a similarly spotty college resume. He starred at Miami of Ohio from 2010 through 2014 – as a basketball player. It was only in his fifth year that he took up football. In that one year, Rollins was named both first team all-conference and defensive player of the year. The Packers must have thought this was a harbinger of things to come when Rollins got more years of football under his belt.
Unlike Randall, Rollins was not at all athletically impressive at the NFL Combine. As I have stated previously, his 40-yard dash time of 4.57 should have disqualified him from consideration as a high-round draft choice.
To sum up, the Packers dubiously used their top picks in 2015 on two guys with a combined three years of football experience beyond the community college level. As I recall, there was little negativity in Green Bay when these two choices were announced in the spring of 2015, but not much buzz either. The fans largely trusted the front office to have chosen wisely. Lesson: rounds 1 and 2 are not the times for experimenting, drafting unproven players, or taking leaps of faith – save that for the latter rounds.
2017 Top Two Draft Picks
When the Packers selected Kevin King with the first pick of the second round, he was the consensus choice as the best cornerback available at that time. King’s athleticism is marvelous. Compared to Randall, King had the better numbers across the board at the NFL Combine, other than the bench press (14 to 11). In particular, King is four inches taller.
King also has a background of versatility. He played his first two years at Washington at safety, before going to the outside as a cornerback. Going into the draft, he was ranked the third best cornerback by NFLDraftScout.com, and the fifth best cornerback by ESPN. He wound up being the fifth cornerback chosen.
While the buzz in Packerland about King has been very positive, it’s Green Bay’s second 2017 pick, Josh Jones, that has electrified the fans. Jones is a big and strong safety, but he also has the athleticism usually associated with a small cornerback. His 4.41 dash speed bests King (4.43), Randall (4.44), and Rollins (4.57). Best of all, Jones loves to hit people – it’s his size and physicality that has the Packers’ coaches drooling over the possibilities of using him as both a linebacker and a defensive back.
At the risk of being premature, I’m ready to declare the holes in Green Bay’s secondary plugged.
I say this because both of these players are known quantities. King and Jones have combined for eight years of college success at the highest levels (PAC-12 and SEC), and each measurably improved every year. Both arrive with NFL-grade size and physicality. Unlike the 2015 high-round picks, you can see the potential of this duo at a glance.
I believe both of these players are ready, if needed, to contribute this year. Both will almost certainly get a fair amount of playing time even if they do not crack the starting lineup as rookies.
Randall Can Still Contribute
There’s one reason not to give up hope on Damarious Randall: his 2016 season was perfectly acceptable for a first-year pro, when he started nine games, especially for one who was learning a new position. Randall is approaching his third year with a good attitude. “Obviously moving forward, I am healthy and hopefully I’m going to stay healthy. And people are going to see why I was drafted in the first round.” Randall vows to let his game “speak for itself” this year. We’re listening.
I think we’ll see Randall looking more like the 2015 model than the 2016 clunker. However, that still renders him only the fourth best cornerback on the squad in my opinion. Given the injury history of the team’s defensive backs, he can still be a valuable backup for the team, but it will take an enormous turnaround for him to be able to win back a starting job.