As with many seasons, injuries to key players are having a great influence on the outcome of games. The Packers have already been hit with injuries hard and often. While they have weathered the storm well so far, the Packers are now facing a daunting schedule in the next six games, four of which are played away from home. Depending on further injuries, a realistic – some might say optimistic – goal would be to win four of the six, which would result in a 7-2 record at about the midpoint of the season.
The next six games will be against the Bengals, Bears, Washington, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Seahawks, with the only home games being against Washington and Seattle. Based on their records to date, the undefeated Cardinals pose the biggest challenge, followed by the 3-1 Bengals. The other four teams are all at 2 and 2.
Other than losing Aaron Rodgers, the absence of Jaire Alexander is likely the worst thing that could happen to the team. Last year they proved they could prevail for a time without Davante Adams, and this year they’ve shown that they can win despite missing David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. They’ve also managed to keep winning despite the loss of Za’Darius Smith, as well as Preston Smith, who injured a shoulder early on against the Niners, but still managed to be on the field for 36 of the 49ers’ offensive snaps. I think we can now safely say that the Pack also has a capable backup to Aaron Jones.
This could be the Packers’ year for having unsung heroes. The play of Josh Meyers and Royce Newman, to start the year, and now that of Jon Runyan and Yosh Nijman, has been nothing short of phenomenal. Other than Meyers, Newman is a fourth round rookie, Runyan is a 6th round second-year man, and Nijman is an undrafted 6’7” guy who the Packers have quietly been developing for two-plus years.
If Alexander misses much or all of the remaining season, it could be the straw that breaks this team’s back, as cornerback appears to be the Packers position most lacking in depth. Rookie Eric Stokes has stepped up nicely to man one cornerback position, but it appears that one or two more unheralded players will need to step into the breach.
Kevin King’s sole role appear to be that of a slot CB, as he lacks the necessary speed to be put on the outside and guard against the deep ball.
Who are candidates to be the next hero coming off the Packers’ bench?
Chandon Sullivan, who went undrafted in 2018, and who’s spent the past two years with Green Bay. He actually was a third (inside) cornerback starter for most of the 2020 season. He also lacks speed (4.60 dash time) and has never been a great tackler. Sullivan has been barely adequate as the third CB, but like King he’s not really suitable as an outside CB, and for the same reason: he turned in a 4.60 dash time at the NFL Combine. To his credit, however, he has avoided injuries.
Isaac Yiadom has a chance to be a savior for the Packers. Yiadom, who surprisingly was a third round pick (99th overall) by Denver in 2018, is both small (190#) and slow (4.52 dash time). After being traded for a seventh round pick, to the Giants in 2020, he actually started ten games for them, but then appeared to be a throw-in player in the trade in August that sent Josh Jackson to the Giants. Thrust into the lineup when Alexander was injured, Isaac partook of 18 of the Packers’ 60 defensive plays on Sunday.
I doubt that Shemar Jean-Charles, the fifth round draft choice out of Appalachian State, was intended to be anything other than a draft-and-develop longshot by the Packers. Like Yiadom, he recorded a marginal 4.52 pro-day dash time, and that was one of his better athletic marks or measurements. On the other hand, the 184-pounder has demonstrated an ability to be a pesky defender. GM Gutekunst indicated at the time of the draft that he was a favorite of a bunch of the team’s scouts, adding that he gets his hands on a lot of balls, and that he felt he’d be a great fit for the locker room.
I believe the team’s prospects for the rest of the season hinge upon the Packers filling the gap created by the injury to Alexander, along with Kevin King’s inability to be an outside CB – as I write on Tuesday morning, the extent of Jaire’s injury has not been revealed.
I’d like to believe that Sullivan, Yiadom, or Jean-Charles can plug the hole created by the Alexander injury, but none of the three have the speed to be a competent outside CB. Not only that, but everyone knows this, and any of these three guys would be mercilessly targeted by Packers’ opponents.
Assuming Jaire misses much or all of the remaining season, the Packers should look to acquire a player to fill this gap – even if it is only a stop-gap, short term remedy. Acme Packing reports that on Monday, Green Bay brought in safety Delano (Lano) Hill for a look-see. He’s intriguing, as he’s a good athlete with tolerable 4.47 dash speed. At 6’1” and 216 pounds, however, he seems much more suited to playing safety than cornerback. Seattle drafted him in the third round (95th overall) in 2017. He was second-team All-Big Ten in 2016. After playing little for Seattle, he was signed by the Panthers, but released in August. Hill has battled injuries, been fined for fighting with opposing players, and also missed time due to contracting Covid.
Given the desperate nature of this emergency, unless the Packers can acquire someone who can be an adequate CB, the Packers should look at converting a safety to fill the gap. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of the team’s two talented starting safeties, Darnell Savage or Adrian Amos, switched over to cornerback. Savage would seem to be the likeliest choice – and his blazing 4.36 Combine dash speed makes him a much better choice than any of the alternatives listed above.
Yes, the success of this all-in season is suddenly at stake. Unless an outside savior can be found, I believe temporarily converting emerging star and versatile athlete Darnell Savage to cornerback is the best prospect for the Packers salvaging the 2021 season.