In 2018, the Green Bay Packers came away with an undisputed home run of a selection in the first round, drafting Jaire Alexander out of Louisville with the 18th pick. Alexander has ascended into the uppermost echelon of cornerbacks in the league but unfortunately for the Packers, he only fills a portion of the team’s need at cornerback. With Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage locking down the safety positions, who and more importantly how the remaining secondary roles are filled will go a long way in determining just how good this Green Bay defense can be.
Having Alexander is not only a blessing but a necessity in order for the Packers to even sniff becoming an elite-level defense. That still leaves a hole to fill opposite Alexander at CB2, but also in the slot, which is an important position for incoming defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
The good news for the Packers is that they have a litany of options with an immense amount of physical gifts to fill these roles. With the image of Scotty Miller racing down the left sideline seared into the collective memory of everyone who witnessed the NFC Championship Game, there won’t be many fans who feel comfortable until they see those physical gifts translate into true coverage ability.
The best-case scenario for this position is that first-round pick Eric Stokes comes in and looks the part from Day 1, taking a stranglehold on the position and forming an impressive lockdown duo with Alexander. Likely? Perhaps not. In terms of realistic expectations at this position, a basic improvement from Kevin King might make the most sense. King, who Troy Asseln wrote about last week, was the guiltiest party in the Scotty Miller debacle, and he has a lot of ground to make up (pun intended) when it comes to filling that role. A healthy season and another year of seasoning between the ears could help elevate the level of King’s game, which would be a welcome sight in the secondary.
The selection of Stokes, he of 4.2 speed in the 40-yard dash, seemed to be a selection made so that specific Miller instance of history wasn’t going to repeat itself, but it’s hard to think that physical gifts that raw will come will a fully formed collection of coverage abilities as well. Barry and the Packers’ coaching staff will be best served in putting Stokes in positions where he can succeed, mixing and matching him with King to fill the CB2 role.
Ka’dar Hollman and Chandon Sullivan are both players who could jump into a bigger role next year. Sullivan has played well in spurts, particularly in 2019, but was not at his best in the NFC Championship Game, where Tom Brady identified him as a weaker link in the Packers secondary. Brady went back to that well multiple times. Hollman, like Stokes, has impressive speed and plays his best in a press-coverage role, but he also may be served best playing in spurts that highlight his strengths rather than as more of a full-time player.
The Packers doubled down in the draft when they selected another cornerback, taking Shemar Jean-Charles out of Appalachian State in the fifth round, presumably to contest for playing time within this specific role. The scouting report on Jean-Charles was largely mixed, with many impressed with his production yet questioning the consistent level of talent he faced at App State.
With a fifth-round pick, however, that’s a fitting selection. That’s the type of player whose floor is being a contributor in some capacity, but whose ceiling is becoming a bona fide starter at the position.
The wild card within the entire secondary may be Josh Jackson. His selection may fade into the memory of Packers fans just a bit, as Jaire Alexander’s overwhelming success has softened the blow that Jackson was selected just one round after him. (We could go down the rabbit hole of “What if Green Bay had taken Christian Kirk or D.J. Chark in the second round?” instead, but that’s for another time.) The likelihood is that Jackson will need to have an incredible camp just to make the 53-man roster; if the Packers only keep the expected six cornerbacks, Jackson will be the odd man out.
With Tramon Williams no longer in the picture, the Green Bay secondary is undeniably young. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as that youth doesn’t become a liability, especially in the postseason.