LaDarius Gunter ended 2016 as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 cornerback. This year is quite different.
Despite lining up with the No. 1 defense (along with Davon House and Damarious Randall) throughout the offseason, everyone seems to assume Gunter will be relegated to the No. 5 cornerback slot at best.
The prevailing theory is that rookie Kevin King and House will start outside. Randall will start in the slot and Quinten Rollins will be the second slot corner when the Packers need one.
In fact, the Journal-Sentinel has pretty much already anointed House as a starter. They claim the only way Gunter will remain one is if he beats out King. People in the media have also claimed that the Packers want King to be an immediate starter.
Clearly, the deck is stacked against Gunter, a former undrafted free agent.
Of the other four cornerbacks mentioned, only House was drafted later than the second round. He was a fourth-round pick. If the competition for starting spots or playing time is even close, the Packers are going to go with the draft picks.
They are certainly going to go with the first and second-rounders in that scenario. They will want to see if those guys can develop and they can get a return on their investment.
It’s really that simple.
Gunter gained quite a bit of confidence in 2016. While you probably remember him getting torched by Dez Bryant and then Julio Jones in the playoffs, he did shut down Odell Beckham twice.
No doubt it was an up-and-down season, but Gunter played better than any corner on the Packers’ roster in 2016. Naturally, he still thinks he can remain a starter.
“It’s just OTAs,” Gunter said this offseason. “It really doesn’t mean much. I’d rather be taking (first-team reaps) in the first game. I’m just trying to get better with each and every route.”
While pretty much everyone is writing Gunter off, we’re not.
The Packers have a history of not starting high draft picks immediately. We can see Gunter ahead of King when the season opens. If he plays well, how are you going to take him out of the lineup?
We could also see Gunter starting ahead of House. Remember, House played sparingly in Jacksonville last year. The Packers gave him a minuscule contract (one year, $2.8 million) when they signed him this offseason.
That adds up to a guarantee of nothing, except maybe a chance to compete.
He’ll need to continue to improve, but don’t sleep on LaDarius Gunter just yet.