We all know the Green Bay Packers had plenty of issues in the secondary in 2016. They tried to improve their fortunes there by signing free agent cornerback Davon House and drafting Washington’s Kevin King with their top draft pick.
That brings us to one of the more interesting stories of the offseason. What happens to LaDarius Gunter?
Although he had trouble covering some of the best receivers the Packers faced in 2016, Gunter was clearly the team’s best cornerback. He was miscast as a No. 1 cornerback and it showed in the playoffs when Gunter faced the likes of Dez Bryant and Julio Jones.
That said, Gunter looked like he would be a hell of a No. 2 corner, providing the Packers could find someone to be that shutdown-type guy on the other side.
They’ll be looking at King and House to be that guy. That means there’s nothing guaranteed for Gunter, despite his efforts in 2016. In fact, Demovsky is predicting that House and King will be the Packers’ starters on the outside.
In theory, Gunter could end up being the team’s No. 3 corner. Though, I don’t really see that happening.
Like House and, we assume, King, Gunter is better suited to be an outside cornerback. He isn’t the fastest guy and would have trouble matching up with the speedy receivers who play the slot.
That means that 2016 disappointments Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins will likely end up being the inside man and thus, the Packers’ No. 3 cornerback.
That has the training camp battle for the top cornerback spots shaping up as one of the most interesting to watch.
Here’s a rundown of the competitors.
House was a non-factor for the Jaguars in 2016. After playing 60-plus snaps in each of the first three weeks of the season, House was essentially benched. He played just 84 snaps the rest of the season. What are the Packers getting in Davon House?
We’re not exactly sure.
We don’t know much of anything based on 2016. However, House was graded at 74.6 by Pro Football Focus in 2015. During that season — his first in Jacksonville — House had four interceptions and an impressive 23 passes defended.
During his first tour in Green Bay (2011-14), House turned himself into a solid outside defender. In 2014, he was the arguably the team’s best defender against the big, tall outside receivers they faced.
Can House return to his 2014-15 form?
If he does, the Packers will have a good problem on their hands.
Gunter finished 2016 with 54 tackles and two forced fumbles. He didn’t have an interception and defended just 12 passes.
Those are not great numbers, although Gunter is probably the best — or most willing — tackler among the Packers’ cornerbacks and that includes House.
PFF graded Gunter’s 2016 season at a subpar 47.6. In their rankings, only Rollins had a better rating (58.1). How Rollins attained that number, we’re not sure. He was consistently beat for big plays because of mental mistakes.
How often can one guy bite on a fake move? Ask Rollins. He knows.
At any rate, we know Gunter is not a No. 1 corner. He isn’t fast enough. Speed, or lack thereof, is the reason he went undrafted in 2015. That said, Gunter has shown he belongs and I maintain that he has the ability to be a solid No. 2.
As Rob has pointed out, King is extremely athletic. He’ll walk in the door as the most athletic cornerback the Packers have.
That doesn’t guarantee anything, of course.
If King is going to start right away, he’ll have to earn it.
As we’ve pointed out numerous times, rookies rarely start game one under Mike McCarthy. Even though the Packers had serious deficiencies at their positions when they were rookies, neither Clay Matthews or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — both first-round draft picks — started immediately.
The Packers didn’t start Matthews until the fourth game of 2009 and they didn’t start Clinton-Dix until the fifth game of 2014.
If we’re betting, for that reason alone, I would bet King isn’t an opening day starter.
But it isn’t where you start, it’s where you finish. The Packers didn’t spend the first pick of the second round on King for him to sit on the bench.
If — or when — he proves capable, he will be in the lineup.
The Other Guys
Yes, we are discounting Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
So are the Packers. After spending first and second-round picks on them in 2015 and authoring impressive rookie campaigns, everyone watched both players regress in 2016.
That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily counting either guy out of this competition. The Packers would certainly love to see their investments rebound and pay off. Both players seemingly have the skills to do so.
I would bet one of the two will be the nickelback when the season starts and that ultimately means you’re a starter.
The outside? I don’t think either player has a future there.
I see House and Gunter as the week 1 starters on the outside, with Randall manning the slot.
By midseason, I would expect King to replace the least effective corner between House and Gunter in the starting lineup.
Although I love the guy, I think King will replace Gunter.