At Arizona State, Damarious Randall was listed as safety.
For the Green Bay Packers, Randall will line up at cornerback.
While that dichotomy was a source of consternation for fans after the pick was made on Thursday night, the reality is the first-round pick is not just well-suited for his new role. He’s well-trained for it, too.
“The three years since we’ve been here, we’ve been 78 percent straight man defensively,” said Chris Ball, Arizona State’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. “He’s played a ton of man coverage – a ton of man coverage. He is really, really good at it. Really good at it. He won’t have any problem playing corner. No problem at all.”
Ball knows defensive backs. He’s produced seven top-100 picks during his career, with Randall joining Marcus Trufant and Deone Bucannon as first-rounders.
As Packers general manager Ted Thompson said at the draft, Randall lined up at safety for the good of the defense. With his experience and athleticism as a senior, Randall could make a bigger contribution in the middle of the field than on an island at corner.
“We would’ve moved him to corner but we only had two starters coming back on defense last year and he was one of them,” Ball said. “We felt like we didn’t want to move him out of our safety position and then have to replace another guy. We just left him there just because he was so good at it. It kept him in the middle of the field and kept him close to the ball. He would’ve been our best corner but we needed him more at safety.”
In the Sun Devils’ blitz-heavy scheme, Randall frequently lined up in man coverage. Often, it was in the slot, though he saw considerable action on the outside, as well. According to STATS, Randall gave up a 46.3 percent completion rate. In ProFootballFocus.com’s first foray into the college game, it had Randall giving up 53.2 percent completions. That, PFF noted, was the best of the six safeties who saw at least 60 targeted passes in this draft class.
That’s quality play for a defensive back with so much room for growth. Randall dreamed of following his brothers into professional baseball. A shoulder injury forced Randall to change career paths. He played cornerback at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in 2012 and safety for the Sun Devils in 2013 and 2014.
“Yeah, his best football’s ahead of him,” Ball said. “What’s great about being drafted by the Green Bay Packers is he’s going to one of the best franchises in the NFL. They’re great at developing guys. They’re well-coached and they’re going to get a lot more football from him because he’s got a lot more football left in him. He’s going to be a great, great player if he continues to work and develop.”
While inexperience might hold him back a bit, intelligence isn’t an issue. He was the quarterback of Arizona State’s defense. The more scouts got to know him at the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, the more they liked him. The Packers were among the teams to have a formal interview with him at the Combine.
“Don’t let the Southern accept fool you. He’s really smart,” Ball said. “That’s one of the reasons he rose so quickly is because when they came in to talk to him and put him on the board, he went through our defense and explained things. I think that’s what really, really impressed a lot of people. He’s very smart.”
One knock on Randall has been his tackling. PFF had him for 12 missed tackles. Some of that is a byproduct of inexperience, as an occasional misstep put him in a trailing position. Some of that is a byproduct of a scheme that offers little help downfield. However, he had 15.5 tackles for losses during his two seasons ± including 9.5 TFLs among his 106 stops as a senior.
“They’re getting a great player,” Ball said. “He’s a great football player. Not only just a great player but character-wise, work ethic-wise. He’s smart, he’s tough and he’s talented. He’s got all the characteristics that we preach in our program. He was one of our leaders last year. Just very, very athletic. He can play safety or corner. He is a quality, quality football player.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.