The Packers have tried to prioritize cornerbacks in past drafts. In 2018 they drafted Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with their top two picks. Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst definitely had cornerback as his priority and correctly read the draft board, allowing him to trade down and then back up to get Alexander. The most interesting side note to his focus was that the Packers had drafted two defensive backs in 2017, Kevin King and Josh Jones. For a team to focus on the defensive secondary, or any specific position group, with their top two picks in consecutive drafts is rare. Add to that the second first round pick of Darnell Savage in 2019 and in three consecutive drafts the Packers invested over 83% of their top two draft choices on the defensive secondary. Any time first or second round draft picks fail to become competent starters, the draft pick must be judged as a failure. The failure of Josh Jones required the Packers to sign free agent Adrian Amos. The failure of Josh Jackson to succeed on the field and injury history of Kevin King now make the corner position a potential Packer draft priority in 2021.
While offensive tackle is being lauded for the depth of talent in the 2021 draft, cornerback is more limited. CBS Sports lists 5 offensive tackles that are worthy of being drafted in the top of the first round and five more that could be drafted in the bottom of the round or top of the second. They only list two cornerbacks who should be drafted prior to the Packers 29th selection; Caleb Farley (6’2”/207lbs.) of West Virginia and Patrick Surtain II. (6’2”/202lbs.) of Alabama.
Surtain II. is projected to be the second cornerback taken with the 15th selection. The next corner is projected to be selected with the 42nd pick. Because cornerback is a high value position, there will undoubtedly be a third cornerback chosen before the 42nd pick. Between picks 42 and 100 there are seven cornerbacks CBS lists as draft worthy.
Asante Samuel Jr. (5-10/184) FSU
Jaycee Horn (6-1/205). S. Carolina
Shaun Wade (6-1/195) Ohio St.
Thomas Graham Jr. (5-11/196) Oregon
Tyson Campbell Jr. (6-2/185) Georgia
Eric Stokes (6-1/185). Georgia
Paulson Adebo (6-2/192) Stanford
Samuel Jr. comes with NFL pedigree, his father being four time pro bowler Asante Samuel. Samuel is 5-10 on a good day. He is a willing tackler but is prone to occasional misses. He has lots of experience in man coverage and has played both boundary and slot well. He is praised for quick hips and his recovery speed. A question for the Packers is even if Samuel Jr. is a legit cover cornerback can the Packers win in the NFL with two corners under 5’11”? Alexander is here to stay and it might be better to find a taller corner to match up with big receivers. If that is the Packer strategy it will limit their draft options.
Horn also carries NFL Pro Bowl pedigree from his father Joe Horn. Horn also has an abundant amount of tape. He started ten games as a freshman and received all SEC honors. He is a three year starter and received second team SEC honors in 2020. The one thing lacking in Horn’s stat sheet is interceptions. Only two picks in over 30 games/29 starts. He did pick off two in 2020 in the first seven games, then shut down his season to focus on the NFL. Will quitting in his team in 2020 affect his draft status? Doubtful, his tape is too good. If there is a cornerback who goes higher than CBS’ rating, it will probably be Horn. Concerns are he is too physical for the NFL game and his tackling needs improvement.
Wade had a great year in 2019 as a slot cornerback for the Buckeyes. Pundits listed him as a potential first round pick. He stayed in school and converted to a boundary corner with very mixed results. Multiple draft pundits use the word , “plummet” to describe his fall in 2020. Much of that is based on his being beaten multiple times by Alabama receivers in the college playoffs. Not only was he beaten, but his body language looked defeated which is the ultimate misstep for a cornerback prospect. Still, he had a respectable season of tape without that game. How much will that one game cost him on the draft boards is anyone’s guess.
Graham Jr. led the nation in passes defended in 2019 but opted out of the 2020 season. He did attend the 2020 Senior Bowl. The Packers are reported to have already interviewed him. Multiple pundits following the Senior Bowl raved about his practice performance. If he runs well in the 40, his draft position will be pointed straight up.
Campbell Jr. is rated a top 5 corner in the draft by SI and PFF. That is noteworthy because Stokes was supposed to be the “lockdown” cornerback for Georgia but Campbell Jr. is being rated above him on some websites. Campbell Jr. started 11 games as a freshman, nine in an injury plagued sophomore year and started all of Georgia’s games in 2020 including their bowl game that Stokes opted out of playing. Campbell has real track speed, he ran a 10.39 one hundred meter time in high school.
Stokes came in as a lesser heralded recruit than Campbell but he developed into a top college cornerback. As a red shirt freshman he only started the last few games of the season but he led the team in pass breakups including big stops in the end zone against Alabama and Auburn. On special teams he blocked a punt, returning it for a touchdown. Voted most improved, he continued to ascend. In 2020 two of his four interceptions were pick sixes. Stokes also relies on speed. He was a high school state champion in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes.
Adebo is a two time Pac-12 selection. He was on many award watch lists before opting out of the 2020 Covid season. He is still a two year starter with good tape, especially his 2018 season. Adebo plays smart with good vision and makes plays, 8 interceptions in two seasons. The only question is his long speed. Words like, “adequate” are used to describe his speed. He does possess loose hips and short area quickness to go along with “great” ball skills. More than one site lists him as a “boundary only” corner, meaning he does not have the quick twitch to play in the slot.
There are nine more listed cornerbacks in the CBS top 150. They are ranked in the following order:
Marco Wilson, (6-1/191) Florida
Ambry Thomas, (6-0/183) Michigan
Deommodore Lenoir (5-11/195) Oregon
Shakur Brown (5-11/190) Michigan ST
Elijah Molden (5-10/191) Washington
Kary Vincent Jr. (5-10/189) LSU
Israel Mukuamu. (6-4/205) S. Carolina
Camryn Bynum (6-0/200) California
Rodarius Williams (6-0/195) Oklahoma
At the 2020 Senior Bowl Elijah Molden received praise from practice on the National team and played a very good game. He is projected as a slot corner due to his size. Thomas from Michigan also was praised but is a completely different player. Thomas’s recovery speed was questioned and he seemed to rely on his strength.
On the Senior Bowl American team two players not listed by CBS received praise. Ifeatu Melifonwu of Syracuse and Aaron Robinson of UCF took advantage of the week, although Robinson’s tackling was described by one pundit as, “suspect.”
While there are a good number of options in the draft at cornerback, fewer stand out as franchise players than the offensive tackle options. The cornerback options seem close in talent level and picking the one or two that will excel could define the 2021 NFL Packer draft’s success and the team’s success going forward. The real strategy is when do you pick a cornerback and do you pick a corner over an offensive tackle? Only when Roger Goodell takes the stage for the 29th pick will that question finally be answered.