That’s obvious with the free-agent departures of Davon House (Jacksonville) and Tramon Williams (Cleveland). But looking beyond the obvious, the need is even more glaring. Casey Hayward, who figures to move into the starting lineup in 2015, is entering his final season under contract. Moreover, veteran starter Sam Shields’ base salary goes from $2.5 million in 2015 to $8 million in 2016 and 2017, sending his cap number from $9.125 million in 2015 to $12.125 million in 2016 and 2017.
So, here’s what general manager Ted Thompson could be looking at in this year’s draft. This, obviously, is not a full list of every prospect available but these are some of the best fits in terms of size and style of play.
First round: Between Washington’s controversial Marcus Peters, Florida State’s P.J. Williams, Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson and former Miami (Ohio) basketball star Quinten Rollins, the Packers should have at least an option or two available in the first round.
Peters (6-0, 197; 4.53) was kicked off the team as a senior. It’s hard to imagine Thompson would take him, no matter what Peters says and no matter his talent level. And Peters is good, with quarterbacks completing only 6-of-32 passes against him last season. Johnson (6-0, 188; 4.52) might not be a good fit, either, due to his lack of physicality. With Shields, the Packers already have one cornerback who is a liability against the run.
Williams (6-0, 194; 4.57) and Rollins (5-11, 195; 4.57) lack elite speed, leading some scouts to believe they might ultimately wind up at safety. Both are physical defenders, whether its playing bump-and-run man coverage — Green Bay’s preference — or attacking against the run. There’s no denying Rollins’ ball skills, with seven interceptions in his one and only season playing college football. The Packers want their corners to catch the ball, not just knock it away. Against Williams, quarterbacks completed 11-of-78 passes last season. He picked off one pass last year and three in 2013.
Second round: LSU’s Jalen Collins (6-2, 203; 4.48) probably won’t get to No. 62, even though there are mixed feelings on if he’s a first-round talent. Seven of his 10 career starts came last year, when he intercepted a pass and broke up nine. He’s not bad against the run. No matter his physical tools, how can he realistically be a first-round pick when he wasn’t good enough to be a full-time starter in college?
Third round: Utah’s Eric Rowe (6-1, 205; 4.45) started 45 games during his four years at Utah. A lot of those starts came at safety. As a senior, he moved to corner and had one interception and a total of 14 passes defensed. He’s better in press and is active against the run.
“Rowe has good field vision and intelligence,” reads the NFL’s scouting report, provided to Packer Report by head NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas. “He knows his role in the defensive scheme and can play either corner spot, in addition to being physical enough to take on slot receivers as a nickel back or man up to tight ends at the free or strong safety slots. ... He has the speed, closing burst and ball reaction skills to stay tight with any opponent, whether they are quick and fast or tall and physical.”
Fourth round: UCF’s Jacoby Glenn and USC’s Josh Shaw. Shaw (6-1, 201; 4.44) played in only three games in 2014 due to injuries and suspension — you might recall Shaw said he injured his ankles after jumping from a balcony to save a drowning nephew when, in fact, he was trying to get away from police. The three scouts we talked to about Shaw were not bothered by the incident and appreciated his honesty. In 2013, he intercepted four passes at safety and corner. He’s at his best in press coverage. Glenn (6-0, 179; 4.64) left UCF following a redshirt sophomore season in which he was named a second-team All-American. He intercepted seven passes and defended a total of 18 passes to rank among the national leaders in both categories. Press coverage isn’t his forte but cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt doesn’t care about that so much as a player’s ball skills. Glenn is a better run defender and tackler than his size might indicate.
Fifth round: Auburn’s Nick Marshall (6-2, 207; 4.54) threw 34 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions in two seasons as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. During Senior Bowl Week, he announced he was giving up quarterback to focus on cornerback.
“To have the guts to roll out there and say I'm going to go cover some of the best wideouts in football, coming off playing quarterback in the last few years, that shows me something, and I liked it,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He's long, he competes. I talked to Doug Graber, the former Rutgers coach and NFL defensive back coach who is training him this offseason, and Doug told me point blank he's got an NFL skill-set at corner, and I believe that.”
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