PACKER DRAFT 2009 CORNERBACKBy Jerry Gilbert 4/16/2009
Last season, the cornerbacks for the Green Bay Packers generally played at a high level. Charles Woodson was All Pro, and Tramon Williams proved he could step in for an injured Al Harris and be an effective starter. Harris also had a decent season. Behind them are two players who have flashed potential, Will Blackmon and Charles Lee. Nevertheless, many people see drafting a cornerback as a priority because of the advancing age of the starters and the absence of a player who has shown the ability to be a starter other than Williams. Thus, a cornerback is likely to be drafted, but how soon to select at that position remains an issue.
More than a few observers have predicted that the ninth selection of the first round will be used by Green Bay to bring in Malcolm Jenkins 6-0 204 Ohio State.
Jenkins was a shut down corner in the Big Ten. In 2008 the receivers he covered caught a total of 7 passes for 66 yards. In seven games he shut out the man he was covering. The All American was very effective in run support, and generally as a down field tackler. In 2008, he registered 57 tackles, and prevented 22 third downs. If the Packer coaches and scouts are convinced that his game speed is not reflected in the pedestrian 40 yard dash times he has turned in this Spring, then Jenkins may be a good pick if he is available at number nine. On the other hand, Jenkins would probably start the season as no higher than the number four cornerback on the roster. A team with as many needs as the Green Bay Packers has to carefully consider whether to use such a high draft choice on such a player.
Another reason to pass on Jenkins is that there are a number of talented corners who could be available in later rounds. One interesting prospect will likely be drafted in round 2. Sean Smith, 6-4 214, Utah is unusually tall for a cornerback, and he could match well against tall receivers. His height also forces quarterbacks to loft the ball over him. Smith is not noted for his tackling, but that may be less of a concern in a Dom Capers defense than it would have been in previous seasons. The fact that Smith began his career as a wide receiver means he understands passing routes, but it also means he is very inexperienced on defense. His size will cause him to be drafted early, but he may not be the answer for the Packers.
There are two players who could fit the Green Bay defense, and at least one may drop to their selection in round 3. Mike Mickens, 6-0 184 Cincinnati, was a four year starter whose 14 career interceptions are a school record. He was also aggressive against the run. A late season injury caused him to miss some games and to leave early from the Senior Bowl. but there are indication s that his pro day and private workouts may move him up into at least the second round. Injuries have had an even greater impact on Kevin Barnes 6-0 187 Maryland. A broken shoulder blade ended his 2008 season, and he has only recently been able to run. The combination of 65 tackles and 4 interceptions in last full season as a starter shows the ability to play the position.
A fourth round possibility is Bradley Fletcher 6-1 196 Iowa. He started only one season registering 60 tackles and three interceptions. At the East West Shrine event Fletcher did very well in practice and was graded by some scouts as the best defensive back in the actual game. The Packers in the past have often chosen players who stood out at the Shrine game. The 4.4 forty he ran at his recent pro day together with his size cements his status as a solid second day prospect. Another talented corner at about this level is DeAngelo Smith 5-11 194 Cincinnati. Smith was put under pressure in 2007, as teams threw away from his teammate Mike Mickens. He responded so well, including 8 interceptions, that offensive coordinators began once again to target Mickens. Smith had 53 tackles and 12 passes defensed in 2008. Scouts rate Smith as a good prospect as a zone defense cornerback.
In round five, or perhaps later, Green Bay might consider Cary Harris 6-0 187 Southern California. Harris was injured at the combine and was unable to run at his pro day. Harris is a physical defender who started for three seasons for the Trojans. As with other middle round prospects, Harris covered well in practice and made the big hit of the game in the East West Shrine game. His skills seem right for a zone defense cornerback. On the negative side for Harris is his injury history that has included different injuries over his college career and into the present. He may be too much of a medical risk to warrant being selected. Another player rated in the 5 to 6 round range is the other cornerback from Ohio State, Donald Washington 6-0 197. Like DeAngelo Smith, Washington played in a situation in which opposing offensive coordinators wanted to avoid the other cornerback, in this case, Malcolm Jenkins. Washington was the nickel corner as a freshman and started for two seasons before entering the 2009 Draft. His physical skills are sufficient, but there is nothing special in either his total tackles or his passes defensed. He tends to let the receiver catch the ball and then makes the tackle. He will be drafted because oh his athleticism.
Some small school players will be a consideration in the late rounds, and one or more may, like Tramon Williams, become better players than their draft status would suggest would be the case. Don Carey 5-11 192, Norfolk State may bring some intelligence to the field. He was accepted at Yale, although he could not afford to attend. A starter all four years, Carey began as a safety and recorded 67 tackles as a freshman. Switched full time to cornerback as a junior, his two- year total was 90 tackles and 8 interceptions. At the East West Shrine practices, Carey took on the big school runners and put them on the ground. One scout rated him as the best coverage corner in the event. Although his experience is at the small college level, like Nick Collins a few years ago, Carey may have the intelligence, experience and physical talent to contribute right away.
Courtney Robinson 5-11 195 Massachusetts was solid cornerback at his level. What is intriguing about Robinson is his ability as a kick returner. He was all conference as a freshman at Connecticut and continued that status in a different a conference after a transfer to U Mass. His 1388 yards of career kick returns is a school record. Robinson would contribute on special teams while he learned to play cornerback at the pro level.
A case can be made that Green bay is just fine at cornerback with the existing players. Some see it as a high priority and favor Malcolm Jenkins as the number one pick for Green Bay. I would be okay with that pick, although my preference is to wait a few rounds and use the first round choice on some other position.