Grading the Packers’ Cornerbacks on a Salary Cap Curve

The Packers are paying Sam Shields to be an elite cornerback but injuries stood in his way. Meanwhile, Casey Hayward had a strong season but the Packers have positioned themselves to handle a free-agent departure.

Player grades are a tried-and-true staple at the end of every season. We put our usual spin on them by grading the players on a salary-cap curve. Stats are from STATS , the NFL and the Packers’ coaches. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com.

Cornerbacks

Sam Shields: It’s the way of the NFL. First, Shields was the understudy to Charles Woodson. Then, he worked in tandem with Tramon Williams. Now, Shields is the dean of the secondary. In many respects, it was business as usual. Lining up against excellent receivers week after week, Shields won far more often than he lost. In fact, the concentration lapses that led to the occasional big play disappeared. However, he just can’t stay healthy. He’s never played an entire season or started more than 14 games. This season, Shields started 12 games but missed most of two games with an injured shoulder and most of four games (plus the Wild Card game) with a concussion. He intercepted three passes and finished with 13 passes defensed. Unofficially, he allowed one touchdown. That his tackling isn’t good enough goes without saying. At this point, it’s safe to say he’ll forever be a liability in that phase. After missing four consecutive games with the concussion, he played air-tight coverage vs. Arizona but had chances to intercept three passes. The Packers’ career leader in postseason picks didn’t grab any of them. If he had, it might have been a different outcome. His cap number of $9.063 million in 2015 ranked 11th among corners. That figure rises to $12.125 million the next two seasons. He figures to be back, even with the young talent at corner, because his mere presence allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to call a different game. If only he could stay healthy ... Grade: B-minus.

Casey Hayward: Hayward intercepted six passes as a rookie in 2012, forever setting the bar to a standard he’d never match. In 2013, he missed 13 games with an injured hamstring. In 2014, he played in all 16 games and intercepted three passes. In 2015, he overcame a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him for most of the offseason to play in all 16 games and finish third on the defense in snaps. He finished with zero interceptions, which is a shame, because that masked the quality of his season. While he was exploited at Denver when replacing Shields at cornerback, he played well in the slot throughout the season. At one point late in the year, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said Hayward had allowed about a 50 percent completion rate. He finished with seven breakups and, unofficially, gave up three touchdowns. He missed far too many tackles (13; one less than Clay Matthews’ team-leading figure, by our unofficial count). His cap figure of $1.05 million ranked just 83rd. He’s going to be offered a lot of money in free agency. The Packers planned accordingly in the draft. Grade: B.

Damarious Randall: The Packers’ first-round pick had three interceptions (plus one more in the playoff loss at Arizona) and a team-high16 passes defensed. Based on the way he played during the first two-thirds of the season, the Packers have a potential star on their hands. It was a different story during the final five games, however. He got torched by Oakland’s Amari Cooper in Week 15 and blew coverage on the pivotal 75-yard catch-and-run by Larry Fitzgerald in the playoff game. Unofficially, he gave up four touchdowns. He needs to tackle better. Unlike Shields, Randall will get that accomplished. His cap number of $1.44 million ranked 78th. Grade: B-minus.

Micah Hyde: Hyde is the John Kuhn of the Packers’ defense. Hyde can play here, there and everywhere — safety, nickel, dime and punt returner. He’s sort of a tweener — not fast enough to be a great cornerback and not big enough to be a great safety. But he’s smart, physical and has a nose for the ball. The Packers held opposing tight ends to the lowest completion percentage in the league. Hyde had a role in that. While he got beaten for touchdowns by John Carlson and Jordan Reed, he also fared well against Jason Witten and, for the most part, Reed. Hyde finished the season with three interceptions and seven passes defensed. On special teams, he averaged 5.8 yards per punt return — a disappointing performance after a combined three touchdowns the past two seasons. His cap number was just shy of $630,000. Grade: B-minus.

Quinten Rollins: Pencil in Rollins as Hayward’s replacement in the slot. The second-round pick started four of the final five regular-season games (plus the Washington playoff game). He intercepted two passes — and probably should have had five or six — and finished with nine passes defensed. On a down-to-down basis, opponents threw at him frequently but had limited success. He didn’t allow a touchdown. There were speed issues at the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine but Rollins didn’t seem to have any troubles. He closes on the ball in a blink and quickly emerged as the most-physical tackler in the cornerback corps. Rollins impressed Whitt with his ability to play cornerback, nickel and dime — impressive stuff considering he played one year of college football. He needs to tighten up his tackling and show that he’s not injury-prone. His cap number was $680,000. Grade: C-plus.

Demetri Goodson: Unlike Rollins, Goodson’s transition from point guard to cornerback hasn’t gone smoothly. The Packers lost Williams and Davon House in free agency but Goodson wasn’t able to hold off Randall and Rollins. He played about 60 snaps at Denver and Carolina — getting toasted for a touchdown vs. the Panthers — but otherwise was limited to special-teams duty, where he tied for fourth on the team with nine tackles. This will be a big offseason for Goodson. Can he ever be more than a special-teams guy? His cap number was about $536,000. Grade: D-plus.

LaDarius Gunter: At 6-foot-2, Gunter was the third-tallest cornerback in the draft. Speed issues, however, sent him tumbling into undrafted free agency, where the Packers grabbed him with a $5,000 signing bonus. After playing only a handful of snaps during the regular season, he played about 30 at Washington and had a nice breakup. He should be a nice role player, depending on matchups, assuming he can work his way onto special teams — which he couldn’t do as a rookie. His cap number was about $437,000. Grade: D.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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