Part 9 of our “Grading on a Salary Cap Curve” series continues with the cornerbacks. Salary cap figures are from a source with access to NFLPA salary data. Stats are regular season only unless noted. Tackles and passes defensed are from the coaches’ statistics. All other statistics are from ProFootballFocus.com. Rankings in completion percentage and passer rating are out of 107 cornerbacks who played at least 25 percent of the defensive snaps. Other coverage metrics are out of 116 cornerbacks who played at least 25 percent of the passing-game snaps. All statistics are from the regular season.
2014 cap number: $9,500,000.
2014 recap: If this was Williams’ last year with the team, the last memory will be giving up the season-ending touchdown pass against Seattle. That play, however, spoke to the trust defensive coordinator Dom Capers showed in his starting cornerbacks. More often than not, they got a minimal amount of safety help, since Morgan Burnett was required to fortify a leaky run defense. Williams finished fourth on the team with 78 tackles, first with 16 passes defensed and tied for first with three interceptions. He ranked 67th with a 64.3 percent completion rate, 75th with a 101.7 passer rating and 70th with one completion allowed for every 9.1 passing plays. He was guilty of only four penalties, with just one in the final nine regular-season games. Williams is headed to unrestricted free agency and will turn 32 about a week into that shopping period. He still runs and jumps well and sees the game better than ever. During the second half of the season, he might have been the best tackler on the entire defense. There’s no question he’s got another good season in him. Will it be in Green Bay? Only Ted Thompson knows that answer.
Season grade: C-plus.
2014 cap number: $5,562,500.
2014 recap: Other than not producing a bunch of big plays, Shields pretty much earned the first year of his free-agent contract. His two interceptions (plus one more in the NFC title game) and 13 passes defensed don’t tell the full story. He allowed only 51.9 percent completions (No. 11) and adapted incredibly well to the NFL’s crackdown on contact in the secondary by being penalized only one time. However, he missed 11 tackles (most among the Packers’ corners and 11th-most in the league), which led to too many yards allowed. While he tied for 28th with one reception allowed for every 11.3 passing-game snaps, he checked in 73rd with 1.40 yards per passing play. That’s the sign of too many big plays and too much run-after-catch. At this point, he is who he is: an incredibly fast cornerback prone to the occasional mental breakdown.
Season grade: B-minus.
2014 cap number: $720,145.
2014 recap: House is who he is, too: A long, tall, heavy-handed cornerback who has played incredibly well in spurts but has battled injury issues and hasn’t put it together for a full season. That will make his foray into free agency almost as interesting as Williams’. House, who will turn 26 in July, has four years in the books but remains something of an unknown commodity. Back in training camp, when House appeared to be the odd man out in a crowded secondary, we asked a scout about House’s trade value. He said he had more value in Green Bay because the coaches knew so much more about him than the rest of the league. Really, not much has changed in that regard as he played about 48 percent of the snaps in his 13 regular-season games. House intercepted one pass (just the second of his career) and broke up 11 passes – an impressive number given his lack of playing time. By the numbers, he had an excellent season in terms of completion percentage (46.5, fifth), passer rating (76.6; 26th) and completions allowed per passing play (11.3; 28th). However, even with limited playing time, he led the unit with five penalties; plus, he missed six tackles.
Season grade: C.
2014 cap number: $902,703.
2014 recap: Remember when Hayward intercepted six passes as a rookie in 2012 and looked like one of the NFL’s budding young defensive stars? That seems like a million years ago. With Williams and House heading to free agency, the Packers will need Hayward to regain that form. In fairness, Hayward’s limited production – he picked off three passes this season – had a lot to do with the depth chart. Someone had to sit or deal with limited reps, and that was House and Hayward most weeks. Hayward played 40.1 percent of the snaps in his 18 games. He showed his tremendous feel for the game with interceptions in back-to-back games against Miami and Carolina, then added an 82-yard pick-six against Chicago to give him three thefts in four games. But against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, he got toasted at the line of scrimmage to give up a 35-yard completion that preceded the game-winner against Williams. For the season, he ranked fourth with one completion for every 16.4 passes and 0.70 yards per snap in coverage. That’s who the Packers need in 2015.
Season grade: C-plus.
2014 cap number: $539,527.
2014 recap: There’s nothing Hyde doesn’t do at at least an acceptable level, which makes him a heck of a bargain. After opening the season at safety to help top pick HaHa Clinton-Dix get acclimated to the NFL, Hyde stayed in the lineup as the nickel defensive back, where his all-around quality play was enough to hold off Hayward throughout the season. In 16 games (with seven starts at safety, five at nickel) he finished with 55 tackles, including one sack, added two interceptions and ranked third with 12 passes defensed. Interestingly, among the 61 defensive backs who played at least 25 percent of the defensive snaps in the slot, Hayward finished third by allowing one reception for every 14.1 coverage snaps. Hyde was 45th with a reception for every 7.8 snaps. Thus, the coverage nod went to Hayward. But Hyde tackled better (seven vs. Hayward’s eight) and just didn’t have many mental breakdowns.
Season grade: B.
2014 cap number: $2,033,334.
2014 recap: Bush, a tireless worker and consummate pro, played just 42 snaps on defense this season. In 2013, he played in 119 with four games of at least 20 snaps. A longtime stalwart on special teams, Bush finished with 11 tackles in 15 games this season — he had seven in 12 games in 2012 but 17 in 2012. He’s headed toward unrestricted free agency and will turn 31 in May.
Season grade: D.
2014 cap number: $445,788.
2014 recap: Goodson, the former basketball standout, didn’t play on defense, which was good news as it allowed cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt to hone Goodson’s skill-set rather than trying to get him ready for games. He played in six games and had six tackles on special teams. Whitt liked the “competitive spirit” Goodson showed on special teams. If nothing else, he might carve out a good career tackling returners.
Season grade: D.
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