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Chandon Sullivan Has Quietly Earned Mike Pettine’s Trust

This post concludes my searches for Packers players who, if given the opportunity, have potential for having a breakout year in 2020. In some cases “breakout” means having some spectacular statistics, though I’m also counting guys who will go from very limited playing time to performing solidly and playing major roles in the team’s success. Previously, I did a rundown on Jace Sternberger and Reggie Begelton for the offense and on Raven Greene and Curtis Bolton on the defense.

My final pick is second-year man Chandon Sullivan, who is listed on the team’s depth chart as the backup to Jaire Alexander at left cornerback. Unless Alexander is injured, however, Sullivan’s might have more playing opportunities as a hybrid inside linebacker. He might also pick up where Tramon Williams leaves off should the Packers choose not to re-sign the 37-year-old for another year.

The unassuming Sullivan earned a decent amount of playing time with the Packers a year ago. He played on defense in 12 of the team’s final 13 regular season games, with the high points being 47 snaps in Week 13 against the Redskins and 56 snaps in Week 14 against the Bears – both narrow Packer victories. On the year, Sullivan wound up with 350, or just over a third, of the defensive snaps. He also was a special teams player in every regular season game, totaling 198 snaps in that role.

Chandon Sullivan interception

Oct 6, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan (39) celebrates a second quarter interception against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In his first year in Green Bay, Sullivan managed 30 tackles, 6 passes defended, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. He also played in both postseason games, including getting a start in one of them.

Sullivan, like Begelton and Greene, didn’t go to a big-name school or win a lot of honors as a collegian. Instead, he was a four-year starter for the Georgia State Panthers. In that time he set school records for interceptions (7) and pass breakups (25). He also made third-team All-Sunbelt conference, was invited to the Senior Bowl, and was chosen as an Academic All-American.

Unsurprisingly, Chandon went undrafted in 2018. Subsequently signed by the Eagles, he failed to survive the final cuts, but signed on to the team’s practice squad. He spent most of his rookie season there, though he did appear in five games and made seven tackles.

After Philadelphia waived him on May 1, 2019, the Packers picked him up on May 6, and he remained on the roster for the rest of last year. Last month the Packers tendered Sullivan for one year as an exclusive rights free agent – and for only $750,000.

The 23-year-old is a slightly built 5’11” guy, who Green Bay lists as weighing 189 pounds. At the 2018 NFL Combine, however, he tipped the scales at 194 – every pound counts when it comes to small cornerbacks withstanding the violence and rigors of the NFL. His dash time was an unimpressive 4.60, though his two jump measurements were in the top-ten percentiles, and his 15 bench presses was above average for cornerbacks.

Normally I would regard that dash time as the NFL kiss of death, but it’s nearly the same as was Tramon Williams’ time of thirteen years ago – perhaps Sullivan will be another exception. Interestingly, Pro Football Focus last season listed Sullivan as a safety, and ranked him at number 21 – teammate Adrian Amos was ranked at 15, while Darnell Savage came in at only 47. Despite not possessing great speed or athleticism, Sullivan is a tight-coverage provider.

According to PFF, last year Sullivan allowed only 11 completions on 31 attempts into his coverage. He gave up no touchdowns, and allowed only 3.9 yards per target. Even more impressive, he gave up a passer rating of only 34.3. Zach Kruse of Packers Wire has already termed 2019 as a “breakout first season” for Chandon.

In last year’s preseason, it was newcomer linebacker Ty Summers, a Round 7 pick, who got the most publicity, and yet it was Sullivan, rather than Summers, who got the playing time throughout the regular season. While Sullivan is not likely to replace either of the two starting cornerbacks or safeties, unless because of injuries, if he continues to improve I expect that Mike Pettine will once again afford him ample opportunities to make solid contributions to the team in 2020.

Chandon is your classic “draft and develop” prospect – except that he went undrafted. But the guy showed steady improvement as a four-year collegiate starter, and throughout his second pro season last year. There’s a real logjam of competition for the hybrid inside linebacker position that Mike Pettine espouses. Last season it was Sullivan got the call much of the time, and did a commendable job. If he continues to improve in 2020, he and veteran Christian Kirksey might be the solution the Packers have sought ever since the team let Morgan Burnett go after the 2017 season.

Green Bay Packers DB Chandon Sullivan

Dec 29, 2019; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive back Chandon Sullivan (39) tackles Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough (10) during the second quarter at Ford Field. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusions

There you have it: my five choices for unheralded players who have the potential for breaking out with a fine season in 2020. Readers undoubtedly will have their own choices: maybe Jake Kumerow, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dexter Williams, or Tyler Ervin on offense; on defense, Kingsley Keke, Josh Jackson, Oren Burks, Will Redmond, or Ibraheim Campbell (if re-signed) might improve a defense that last season was ranked 15th in the NFL in total yards surrendered.

The club has suffered several major departures since last season (Bulaga, Martinez, Graham) as well as some lesser losses (Fackrell, Allison, Goodson) but low financial reserves have prevented the club from obtaining replacements with impressive resumes. I feel there is a great need for several unheralded players who are already on the roster to step up and deliver.

I’ve tried to provide sound reasons to believe each of the five players I’ve profiled have the potential to quickly become staters, and maybe even stars, in the league. If, say, three of the five get to perform regularly, and do perform well in 2020, it will fill some big gaps that appear to exist in the current roster. In turn, that should be sufficient to assure a second consecutive division championship and postseason appearance for LaFleur’s guys.

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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9 Comments

  1. MJ April 9, 2020

    “Undraft and develop”, a way to find contributions on the cheap.

    Reply
  2. Ferris April 9, 2020

    He needs a new number. 39 makes us all have nightmares and think Goodson is still on the field getting smoked by the 4th string waterboy. Burn that number and 59 too. Brad Jones cursed it.

    Reply
  3. PF4L April 9, 2020

    The silly season.

    Reply
  4. Howard April 9, 2020

    When you get a chance to see the field as an UDFA or late pick you need to make plays when your number is called at critical times in the game.
    One thing I like about Sullivan is opponents tried to exploit Sullivan when he was on the field, and Sullivan produced at critical times. Week 8 against the Chiefs, 4th Q the Chiefs go to Kelsey on 3rd down with Sullivan in coverage. Sullivan is in tight coverage and knocks the ball down. The Chiefs have to punt it and never get the ball back.
    Week 13 Giants, 4th Q, Giants have 4th down @ GB 17 yard line. Giants go after Sullivan across the middle. Sullivan knocks the ball down in good coverage.
    Week 15 Bears go for it on 4th down in the 2nd Q. Sullivan knocks the ball down along the sideline in tight coverage at about the GB 3 yard line. On the last Bears play in the 4th with one second left Sullivan brings the ball carrier down close to the goal line forcing a poor lateral. If Sullivan wasn’t there I think the Bears score a TD probably putting the game into OT.
    Sullivan did not see the field as often as the starters but Sullivan did put up much better percentages per target than any of the corners. A 35% completion rate per target is very good. All the Packer corners allowed around a low to upper 50% completion % per target. Sullivan earned his snaps in 2019 and deserves a chance to earn more snaps in 2020.
    Not sure that Sullivan would hold up well as the hybrid ILB or as a perimeter corner, but Sullivan appears to have some good instincts and vision in coverage.

    Reply
  5. Skinny April 11, 2020

    “Packers defense not wary of Pettines defensive calls anymore” “Packers defense believe Pettine has finally figured it out” “Weekend with Capers energizes Pettine this off season”

    Reply
  6. PF4L April 13, 2020

    In other current news: An interesting fact is that 2 States, New York and New Jersey account for 53% of the total deaths in the USA.

    Reply
  7. PF4L April 14, 2020

    If anyone follows college ball closer than i do (which is everyone). Tell me what you think of these two receivers if you may.
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    1 (30). WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State – It was difficult to choose which receiver to slot here at the end of round one. Currently, there seems to be some real positive buzz for Aiyuk to land inside of the top 32 picks. His game was built off a vertical line along with inside breaking routes. Aiyuk showed plenty of promise after the catch on designed screens and manufactured touches. It’s up to Matt LaFleur to design the opportunities for him now.

    2 (62). WR Antonio Gibson, Memphis – Yes, back to back receivers. The Packers have not been shy in doubling down on positions of need recently. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in consecutive rounds. Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in the same free agency period, along with Rashan Gary. I know some suggest Gibson fits best as a running back, I see a slot receiver who is outstanding with the ball in his hands with real natural pass catcher tendencies.

    Reply
    1. Howard April 14, 2020

      One thing to remember about Aiyuk is he just recently had core muscle surgery. With the limited ability this off season for teams to meet one on one with players, Aiyuk may drop in the draft. The Packers may be able to get Aiyuk in the second or third round.
      I know probably less than you do about Aiyuk, but I think the surgery drops Aiyuk’s draft stock.
      I Think Gibson could be available in the third or maybe fourth round.
      I have been disappointed in ND skill players transition to the NFL. It seems the ND Offensive skill players do not transition well to the NFL under Brian Kelly. With that said if Claypool was available in the second or third I think the Packers should consider, as long as they can get a receiver with similar skills to a healthy Aiyuk earlier in the draft.
      I think after the first 3 to 5 WRs are selected the WRs left may drop some in the draft as there are so many with similiar grades.

      Reply
      1. PF4L April 16, 2020

        Thanks Howard. Seems like your consensus is that they both drop. Some say that the receiver core is 30 plus deep this year.

        Speaking about teams lack of meeting the players, etc. It seems to me that GM’s have a built in excuse in draft performance this year. I don’t agree, they talk to everyone, they know what they can do physically. Maybe as far as talking in person to get a gauge on personality and character. But i think more often than not, what you saw in college, might be what you see at the NFL, with some exceptions of course.

        Reply

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