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Michigan’s Mike Sainristil can fill obvious slot CB need if Packers are willing to go off-script

Addressing the cornerback position is undoubtedly on the Green Bay Packers radar this offseason, but more specifically, they need to find a slot cornerback — and Michigan’s Mike Sainristil will be a top option in the draft.

Naturally, a lot of time has been spent dissecting the defensive transition the Packers are making moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. However, roughly two-thirds of the Packers defensive snaps are likely going to come in nickel and not in the 4-3 base defense.

“I think this league’s a 4-2-5 league,” said Brian Gutekunst at his season-ending press conference, “and I think, I’m certainly, as Jeff comes in, and we’re very excited about that, the conversations about kind of how we’re going to want to play. Obviously through the interview process we had some of those, so, and that will be a work in progress.

”But as far as how we go about our process and scouting and what we’re looking for, probably won’t change a ton. But those conversations will probably be had over the next few weeks.”

Despite the importance of the nickel cornerback in today’s NFL with this player essentially being a starter, playing around 66 percent of the defensive snaps league-wide, it’s not a position that the Packers have prioritized, despite being willing to spend draft capital on the cornerback position.

Last season, it was Keisean Nixon who manned the slot after never playing more than 290 defensive snaps in any season prior to that one. Before Nixon, the Packers tried experimenting with Rasul Douglas inside – a position he had never played – and prior to that, it was a role held by Chandon Sullivan, a former undrafted rookie.

As the roster is currently constructed, the Packers don’t have an obvious answer to the nickel position. Could Jaire Alexander fill that role? Of course, but there hasn’t been any signs that this will be an option. Carrington Valentine and Eric Stokes, meanwhile, have been boundary cornerbacks.

Sainristil began his career at Michigan as a wide receiver before making the switch to slot cornerback in 2022. He was a natural at the position, and his past as a wide receiver was showcased in his ability to make plays on the ball. In two seasons, Sainristil forced 12 pass breakups and came away with seven interceptions, including six in 2023, along with a completion rate of only 58 percent.

A lack of playmaking in the secondary was a major issue for the Packers last season. Adding a player with Sainristil’s ball-skills would be an obvious help, but the addition of Jeff Hafley as defensive coordinator, who will play more man and press coverage, along with his ability to make the game plan digestible should put the defensive backs in more consistent positions to make plays on the ball as well.

Overall, Sainristil proved to be a sound tackler at Michigan, making 99 of his 113 attempts and a willing run defender. From the slot, he also made an impact as a blitzer, generating 20 pressures and four sacks in two seasons.

“Just showing my physicality,” said Sainristil at the NFL Combine, “just showing my willingness, whether it’s in the run game or defeating blocks on the edge, playing with good instincts.

“I think those are the things that helped me be successful at the nickel position and why coach Harbaugh wanted me to play the nickel, as well as being a smaller frame guy. The nickel, I wouldn’t say is for smaller guys, but it works out for me that way.”

By typical cornerback standards, Sainristil is undersized at 5-9 and 182 pounds, and under the usual thresholds that the Packers have at the position. However, that’s to be expected from a slot defender and if Gutekunst is going to prioritize this position, it likely means being more flexible in this regard.

Sainristil boosted his draft stock with his on-field performance, recording a Relative Athletic Score of 8.51, which included a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, a 40-inch vertical and a broad jump of 10-11 along with an elite shuttle time of 4.01 seconds. Sainstrill showcased his explosiveness and short-area quickness.

At the Combine, Gutekunst mentioned the importance of versatility between the two safeties and nickel cornerback, wanting those players to be “interchangeable.” Sainristil brings a more true-nickel skill set to the table, and admittedly, as already alluded to, this would be a selection that goes against the grain from what Gutekunst has done in the past.

With that said, with nickel being an obvious need and essentially a starting position on the defense, spending an early round pick on Sainristil – a top slot cornerback in this year’s draft – and going off-script, to a degree, would be a well-justified move by Gutekunst in an effort to put more resources into what has become a key position.

“That’s another one,” said Jim Harbaugh on Sainristil. “You know, they just don’t come any better. Leader. Just a phenomenal human being.”

“Playmaker, difference-maker,” added Harbaugh. “I bet if you checked the NFL Draft, he is rising to the highs, you know, first round type of guy, All-American. You know, again, just a great guy, down to Earth, great guy, and heck of a football player.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire