Let the comparisons begin.
The Green Bay Packers used their first-round pick on safety Damarious Randall with an eye on moving him to cornerback.
By taking Randall at No. 30, they bypassed the best inside linebacker in the draft, Stephone Anthony, who went No. 31 to New Orleans, and one of the best three-down defensive tackles in the draft, Texas’ Malcom Brown, who went No. 32 to New England.
Anthony and Brown would have provided an immediate impact to a defense that needs some immediate impact. Anthony, with his rare combination of size and athletic ability, almost automatically would have become Green Bay’s every-down inside linebacker at some point in his first year or two in the lineup. Brown, a first-team All-American following a season of 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for losses, was a potential upgrade on a defensive line depth chart that’s long on depth but short on difference-makers.
But let’s just limit the Friday morning quarterbacking to the cornerbacks. General manager Ted Thompson bypassed three quality options in Utah’s Eric Rowe (a two-year starting safety who moved to corner in 2014), LSU’s Jalen Collins (10 career starts and positive drug tests in college) and Miami-Ohio’s Quinten Rollins (a former basketball player with one year of football experience) to get Randall.
To be sure, the court of public opinion might be speaking differently had the media draft pundits — this one included — listed Randall as a safety/cornerback rather than just a safety. Seemingly, nobody considered Randall a cornerback. Other than the teams. Randall said more teams viewed him as a cornerback than as a safety, so it’s not like Thompson was a lone wolf in seeing Randall as capable of making the transition.
“He was the starting safety for them and a good one,” Thompson said. “He would’ve been their best corner, which was what was told to me, but in their defense, the safety play is so important and crucial to the production of the defense that they had to play him on the inside, but he ends up in the slot and that sort of thing.”
The big story is really a short story. Randall measured in at 5-foot-10 7/8 at the Scouting Combine. In his previous 10 drafts, Thompson had drafted eight cornerbacks. Five stood at least 6-foot (without rounding), with Demetri Goodson (5-foot-11) being the shortest. Green Bay’s top three cornerbacks for 2015 are Micah Hyde (5-foot-11 3/4), Casey Hayward (5-foot-11 3/8) and Sam Shields (5-foot-10 3/4).
Moreover, compare Randall to Collins, who is 6-foot-1 1/2, and Rowe, who is 6-foot 3/4. Bigger isn’t always better, of course. Still would a different look have given defensive coordinator Dom Capers the opportunity to match up his corners based on the opponent’s skill-sets? Wouldn’t Rowe, for instance, have been a better option against Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5) and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery and first-round pick Kevin White (both 6-foot-3) in the NFC North?
Thompson, however, shrugged off a question about height.
“We’re tall enough,” he said matter-of-factly.
Not only is he not tall, but his arms were among the shortest and his hands among the smallest in the cornerback class at the Combine. He is fast (4.46 in the 40), he can jump (38-inch vertical), he’s a willing tackler (106 tackles, including 85 solos and 9.5 for losses in 2014) and he can cover (six interceptions in two seasons at ASU).
“Randall can hold up in man coverage vs. most tight ends and definitely has the mirror skills and foot speed to match up vs. quicker slot receivers,” reads a portion of his scouting report, provided to Packer Report by the NFL’s head scout. “He turns and locates the ball and can extend his arms and snatch the ball out of the air.”
The potential is intriguing. However, Anthony and Brown almost certainly would have started for the Packers. Perhaps one of the other corners would have been better equipped to contribute immediately. Can Randall learn the position quick enough to even be more than a modest contributor as a rookie? That's the big question.
With that said, before criticizing Thompson for this pick, let’s just wait until Randall puts on his helmet. But the comparisons to Rowe and Collins — and even Anthony and Brown — will be fair game once the season begins.
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