Jaire Alexander might currently be the best corner in the NFL, but the Green Bay Packers have no players who inspire confidence behind him. They were so desperate for anyone who could play that they decided to drag 37-year-old Tramon Williams to see some meaningful snaps in the NFC Championship game.
Kevin King lined up opposite Alexander last season and had perhaps the worst NFC Championship of any player. He was infamously burned by Bucs wideout Scotty Miller on the Hail Mary Tom Brady threw on 4th down right before the end of the half. It was just a microcosm of the awful season that King had. He gave up a 104.8 passer rating and earned a 52.1 coverage grade from PFF.
They could look for 2018 second-round pick Josh Jackson to take a step up and claim that second corner role, but given that he was a healthy scratch for both postseason games, that feels extremely unlikely.
They could potentially bring back Williams, but at age 38, you would rather see the Packers get younger at the corner position and potentially add another high-ceiling player to pair with Alexander. In fact, they should use the draft….
King is set to be an unrestricted free agent and probably won’t be back next season. Asante Samuel Jr. from Florida State University could be a great fit opposite Alexander. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because his father was a four-time Pro-Bowler with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
But it’s not like there are many great internal options behind King. Chandon Sullivan allowed a 92 passer rating while in coverage, and he is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason. Bringing back the aforementioned Williams could be an option, but he will be 38 soon and it would be hard to see him playing a majority of the snaps while trying to physically keep up with players over a decade younger than him.
With teams turning to more of a pass-heavy philosophy, the second cornerback position becomes incredibly important when facing teams like the Buccaneers, who have two or three top-tier wideouts.
Green Bay is still $11 million over the cap, so adding any corner in free agency will be difficult. Therefore, the Packers should be all-in on adding a corner through the draft.
While Samuel is a tad undersized at 5’10” and only weighs 183 pounds, a lot of draft pundits have teams kicking him inside to play as a slot cornerback. But despite his smaller stature, Samuel could definitely play on the outside. He is the same height as Alexander, though he will need to add some more weight to compete at the next level. And don’t let his size fool you when facing the run, he is a very competitive tackler and can make stops when he needs to.
Samuel might be one of the best man-coverage corners in this year’s class. His speed and loose hips complement his ability to read route concepts, making it difficult for receivers to get separation from him.
However, for all his success in Florida State’s man-coverage scheme, he struggles in zone coverage. He also has average ball skills. Despite having 14 pass breakups in college, he only recorded one interception.
But I see Samuel succeeding in a role where he works on the outside, taking the second wideout instead of drawing the harder matchups. With Samuel’s ability to lock down in man coverage, he opens up both Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage to be able to freelance on the back end and not be forced to only help in coverage.
What really appeals to me with Samuel is his value. He will most likely be a mid to late second-round pick, so instead of focusing on grabbing a corner on Day 1 in the first round, the Packers can instead look to grab a wideout to pair with Davante Adams or maybe an offensive tackle to protect Aaron Rodgers.
While top corners Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Fairly, and Jaycee Horn are unlikely to fall to them at 29, Samuel still provides high-ceiling potential and could contribute to the team early. If he is able to fill out his frame at the next level, then the Packers could have two lockdown corners to anchor the defense.