Packers training camp 90-man roster preview: Cornerbacks
The Green Bay Packers keep investing at one of the premium positions on defense.
General manager Brian Gutekunst, sensing a need to improve at cornerback to get his team over the hump, used a first-round pick and a fifth-round pick on the position during the draft and brought back both free agents that started a year ago.
With depth intact, cornerback looks like one of the most intriguing positions for the Packers entering training camp.
Here’s a preview of the players at cornerback on the Packers’ 90-man roster to start camp:
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
There's no better young cornerback in football. It took Alexander, a second-team All-Pro in 2020, only three seasons to firmly plant his flag among the elite cornerbacks in the NFL. He was the No. 1 rated player at the position for Pro Football Focus in 2020. At cornerback, he is the ideal mix of athleticism, confidence, intelligence and physicality. Teams rarely beat him for big plays. His production on the football hasn't been elite, but quarterbacks rarely challenge him. The roster of No. 1 receivers he shut down in 2020 was impressive, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has already challenged him to repeat his All-Pro season in 2021. An injury might be the only thing that could stop his ascent. Alexander is an elite player at a premium position who is playing on his rookie deal, but a new, lucrative extension isn't far off in the distance.
The Packers weren't willing to give up on the Kevin King experience after four very interesting years. He's back in 2021 on a one-year deal with void years. The new deal provides an opportunity for King to get healthy – he wasn't 100 percent for much of last year – and then wash away the taste of a disastrous NFC title game performance. It's unclear if he's up to the task. His first four seasons were a mix of frustrating injuries, flashes of brilliance, and game-to-game inconsistency. If King can emerge as an above-average starter, the Packers could have an elite pass defense. If he's the same player again in 2021, the Packers may have to give others a chance to start opposite Jaire Alexander. A first-round pick will be developing behind him.
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Sullivan returns on the one-year restricted tender after operating as the Packers' full-time starter in the slot during the 2020 season. He was a revelation as the fourth cornerback in 2019, providing the opportunity for a bigger role last season. It was up and down at times, and the Buccaneers beat him for a couple of big plays in the NFC title game, but he proved to be a capable starter for much of the year. Sullivan is still only 24 years old, and the valuable experience he gained over the last two seasons should provide the foundation for a leap in performance during his third season in Green Bay. While the favorite to start in the slot, Sullivan will have plenty of competition. As a former undrafted free agent, he knows the grind.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes (21) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
The Packers' first-round pick is a legitimate speedster with two years of experience covering NFL-caliber receivers in the SEC. Stokes, the 29th overall pick in the 2021 draft, has 4.2 speed, making him one of the fastest players on the roster right away. He needs to play more under control, but the physical traits are all there. The Packers think he can play outside or in the slot, and his quick-twitch attributes and straight-line speed suggest they could be right. At times, college quarterbacks just ignored his side of the field. He'll have technique issues to correct in the NFL, and he must figure out how to control his speed, but the Packers believe they've drafted a perfect running mate for Jaire Alexander at cornerback. With a strong summer, Stokes could be on the field playing important snaps immediately.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Josh Jackson (37) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
It's now or never time for Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018 who has struggled to get on the field in a meaningful way over the last two seasons. A mix of injuries and lingering on-field inconsistency have blocked his career from taking off. A ball magnet at Iowa, Jackson has remained too grabby and maybe a step or two slow to be a disruptive cornerback at the NFL level. He has good size and terrific leaping ability, but he's a tough fit in the slot (quickness) and at safety (physicality, tackling), and all the issues that showed up at times in college have persisted while patrolling the perimeter in the NFL. Jackson must take a real step forward as a player to guarantee a roster spot in 2021. He's capable, but the position is deep and his ability is now a question mark. This could be the start of a revival or his final summer in Green Bay.
Cornerback Ka'Dar Hollman (29) runs a drill during Green Bay Packers training camp at Ray Nitschke Field Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in Ashwaubenon, Wis.
A sixth-round pick of the Packers in 2019, Hollman has played in 18 games over his first two seasons, including 14 of the Packers' 16 games in 2020. He played 108 snaps on defense and 165 on special teams last season, tallying 10 tackles and three pass breakups. He has the mix of size and athleticism that most teams want in a reserve corner expected to play special teams. However, he also turns 27 in September – making him an older third-year player – and his development potential might be limited. Hollman needs to show progress during camp and the preseason to retain a roster spot for another season.
Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK
All the fifth-round pick did at Appalachian State was make plays on the ball. A favorite of the Packers scouting department, Jean-Charles doesn't have impressive size or elite athleticism, but he is smart and crafty and knows how to get between his man and the football. He broke up 33 passes over 50 collegiate games, including a nation-high 17 during his final season. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has already raved about his intelligence. He could be an option to play in the slot and contribute on special teams, even as a rookie. Playing on the perimeter might not be in his wheelhouse but the Packers think he can do it.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Kabion Ento is shown Monday, August 17, 2020, during training camp in Green Bay, Wis.
Ento, a converted wide receiver, likely would have made the 53-man roster and been a contributor – at least on special teams – in 2020 without a season-ending foot injury during training camp. He spent the entire 2019 season on the practice squad learning the tricks of the trade. He is an explosive jumper who knows to make plays on the football thanks to his receiving background. Each of the last two summers, he's made impressive plays during camp. The next step is gaining consistency and staying healthy. With special teams ability and potential at corner, a spot on the 53-man roster is well within his reach, but this is a big summer for his development after a major injury.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Stanford Samuels III (34) is shown Saturday, August 15, 2020 during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.
A highly-regarded undrafted free agent out of Florida State, Samuels (6-1, 187) didn't make the 53-man roster but spent his entire rookie season on the team's practice squad. The Packers called him up for two games (Week 9 at 49ers, Week 10 vs. Jaguars), and he tallied three total tackles while playing 13 snaps on defense and 22 on special teams. A lack of speed didn't look an issue. Even in a deep position group, Samuels will be a fascinating player to watch throughout camp and the preseason. He is an easy mover who likes to play with physicality in press coverage and at the catch point. A strong summer could easily get him onto the roster.