Packers like CB Kevin King in the slot, but why?

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Coach Matt LaFleur, defensive coordinator Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray all made it clear that the Green Bay Packers will continue using cornerback Kevin King in the slot.

Barry provided the simple reason why on Thursday: It’s an easy way to get Eric Stokes on the field, and the Packers think Stokes, King and Jaire Alexander are the team’s three best cornerbacks.

King played a team-high 22 snaps in the slot against the Detroit Lions. But keeping him in the slot sure looks, at least from the outside, like a team forcing themselves to jam a square peg into a round hole.

The Packers like King’s length and size inside, and Stokes is likely the future (and probably the present) as the top perimeter cornerback opposite Alexander. King is just a tough fit in the slot. A really tough fit.

He is certainly long, and he can be disruptive as a press corner. But he also has tight hips and two chronically injured shoulders, and he no longer possesses the quickness or fluidity to hang with the smaller, quicker receivers in the slot, especially after so many lower-body injuries in recent years. He tested great at the combine but he no longer looks like an elite athlete on the field every week. King’s weaknesses as a tackler – he missed 24 tackles over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus – will only be intensified in the slot where defenses need the run support and physicality.

Playing in the slot is no easy task. It often requires covering the quickest players on the field, and those receivers almost always have a two-way go at the line of scrimmage, complicating the coverage assignment and requiring an equal amount of quickness and instincts. Playing so close to the football also requires contributions against the run. Slot defenders need to use quickness to beat bigger blockers and disrupt plays.

King’s skill set still has some value as a perimeter corner, but the Packers seem hell-bent on putting him in positions to fail.

Maybe the Packers can get by with using King as a part-time option in the slot, based on assignment. If they can keep him from bad matchups, maybe his length could be an asset against a certain type of bigger receiver or tight ends.

But it’s also easy to envision the NFL’s top playcallers – like Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers, for instance – finding King in the slot and exposing him, both in the passing game and run game.

The Packers are in a tough spot. They clearly like King more than the outside world, but they also want to get Stokes on the field in a meaningful role. So the natural answer is shuffling the deck to get the rookie into the most comfortable spot. Expect to see more of King in the slot, but don’t be surprised if the experiment fails, possibly spectacularly, starting on Sunday night in San Francisco.

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