Monday, July 25, 2016

Did The Packers Do Enough This Offseason: Defensive Backfield

In a vacuum, the 2016 offseason looks like a step back for the Green Bay Packers' defensive backfield. They lost a cornerback in free agency who played on the 2nd most snaps among all of their defensive backs, and they added no one in the 2016 draft. However, this was all part of the plan.
While the 2015 draft isn't going to remembered as one of the all-time greats, it's was a very strong one that added two (probable) starters with their top two picks (CB Damarious Randall and CB Quinten Rollins) plus a very promising undrafted free agent (CB LaDarius Gunter). Despite the free agent loss of CB Casey Hayward (who was 2nd among defensive backs with 914 snaps in 2015), the Packers can't afford to keep all of their players and took a chance that they could afford to lose a slot corner with a history of injuries when they had a 2nd year player (Rollins) ready to step into that role. Plus they'll gain a draft pick for Hayward in 2017 when the compensatory draft picks are awarded by the league.

Here are the snaps among the returning defensive backs in 2015 and I can't recall a deeper group. This list doesn't even include Gunter, who should play more in 2016.
Player Pos. Def. Snap Def. %
Clinton-Dix S 1048 99.7%
Randall CB 755 71.8%
Shields CB 697 66.3%
Burnett S 683 65.0%
Hyde CB/S 652 62.0%
Rollins CB 323 30.7%
Banjo S 102 9.7%
Goodson CB 72 6.9%
The safety position is pretty much set with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett. Usually Burnett leads this group in snaps but he missed several games early last season with a calf injury. While Burnett's probably never going to be anything more than a reliable veteran, not that there's anything wrong with that, Clinton-Dix still has time to improve as he enters his 3rd season. To back them both up is jack of all trades Micah Hyde, who should see the field in a variety of sub-packages.

It was an up-and-down season for Randall, who started out very strong, struggled as the season went on, and made the biggest mistake of his NFL career against the Cardinals in the playoffs. The Packers threw him to the wolves as a rookie, they switched him from college safety to NFL cornerback and they kept on the field almost all the time (his 755 snaps was 3rd among their defensive backs). It sucks that he blows it against the Cardinals and then has to wait several months to prove that he'll bounce back. Assuming he does bounce back, overall it was a strong rookie season for him, he'll become an excellent sideline corner across from CB Sam Shields (who's spent the last two seasons proving he was worth his big four-year contract).

So the Packers have to find a new nickel corner and they have a bunch of options. Rollins was getting playing time in the slot as soon as he stepped onto the practice field last year, so the job should be his. If not, Gunter, Hyde, and Demetri Goodson (who the Packers seem to like and they've given him the last two years to adjust from playing point guard to cornerback) are right behind him. So far Goodson's shown great athleticism and poor instincts and maybe their patience in him will never pay off.

Their pass defense was the strength of the defense last season, ranked No. 6 overall by Football Outsiders, and this could be a great unit with good health (both Shields and Burnett missed several games last season) and a year of experience for Randall and Rollins. It's not a top heavy group, it's lacking one of the super star DBs like Josh Norman or Richard Sherman, but their overall talent can match up with any team entering the 2016 season.

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