Everyone does player grades.
Ours are different.
We do ours on a salary-cap curve. After all, the salary cap largely determines long-term success in the NFL. Players with big-money contracts must be big-time performers. Those highly paid players must be supplemented by several small-budget but high-production players.
With that, we continue this series with the cornerbacks. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com. Stats provided courtesy of STATS and Pro Football Focus. An important note: Coverage stats from Pro Football Focus are based on the best guess of coverage responsibilities.
2016 cap: $12 million (fifth at position)
When Shields went down in Week 1 with a season- and possibly career-ending concussion, the defense went down with him. Shields, who ranked second in the NFL in interceptions (including postseason) since entering the league in 2010, was released on Wednesday.
2016 cap: $1.799 million (65th at position)
After showing such promise throughout most of his rookie season, Randall took a huge step backward this season. According to Pro Football Focus, which provided data to Packer Report before the NFC Championship Game, Randall allowed a 64.3 percent completion rate, team-worst figures of 800 yards and 10 touchdowns, 14.6 yards per catch and a 115.1 passer rating. Remember: Randall missed six regular-season games and wound up playing less than half of the snaps, making those yardage and touchdown figures even uglier than they would have been otherwise. No cornerback in the NFL allowed more touchdown receptions. At least he intercepted three passes (and added another in the playoffs) and broke up nine others, though that was down from his three interceptions and team-high 14 additional breakups as a rookie. It wasn’t just the coverage where Randall’s play plunged. Randall was an inconsistent but willing tackler as a rookie first-round pick. This season, he seemingly had no interest in contact. Was that because he was playing hurt? Randall certainly has the ability to salvage his career. The interception against Seattle, when he was a blur in crossing the field and grabbing what appeared to be a touchdown pass, hinted at his enormous potential. But can Randall reach that potential? Was his terrible season the byproduct of a lengthy list of injuries, including a groin injury that required surgery and sidelined him for six games, as well as foot, knee and shoulder injuries that either knocked him out of portions of games or limited his reps at practice. Clearly, the Packers need Randall to be the defensive equivalent of receiver Davante Adams, who bounced back from an injury-plagued second season to have a big third season. Randall is incredibly confident. Is it the “real confidence” that coach Mike McCarthy so often talks about, or is it false bravado? Without Shields, the Packers badly need Randall to emerge as a legit starting corner. Otherwise, how on earth is this team going to get to the Super Bowl?
2016 cap: $1.716 million (69th at position)
Hyde went from the No. 3 safety and dime defensive back playing about half the snaps to a full-time player, mostly as the nickel defender. Hyde played well, played smart and played with effort. The same couldn’t always be said for the others. Hyde made a lot of money down the stretch. According to the coaches’ count, Hyde had no interceptions and two passes defensed in the first 11 games. In the final eight games, he had four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Hyde, to be sure, has his flaws. He struggles with athletic slot receivers and doesn’t have great long speed. That may limit his free-agent windfall. But he’s smart, tough, versatile and competitive. He was by far the best of the Packers’ cover guys, though, in a way, that’s like pointing to the tallest of the jockeys at Churchill Downs. According to Pro Football Focus, Hyde allowed a 67.9 percent completion rate, 619 yards, 11.3 yards per catch, five touchdowns and a 90.5 passer rating. After returning three punts for touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 and then going nowhere in 2015, Hyde showed a bit of his old flair as a returner late in the season. Considering Green Bay’s obvious problems in the cornerback corps, it’s hard to see how this unit could be better if he’s not here.
2016 cap: $850,583 (87th at position)
If Randall was the team’s most disappointing player, than Rollins was right on his heels. The Packers let Casey Hayward depart in free agency, in part because of Rollins’ strong play down the stretch as a rookie second-year pick. But while Hayward led the NFL with seven interceptions for San Diego, Rollins regressed. Much like with Randall, was the poor play because of injuries? He got benched in the opener against Jacksonville but bounced back, only to miss three games with a groin injury — an injury that McCarthy termed “big” and no doubt impacted his play. In 68.2 percent playing time, the numbers were awful: 71.6 percent completions, 724 yards, a team-worst 15.1 yards per reception, a team-worst 274 yards after the catch and seven touchdowns. His passer rating of 135.4 ranked 118th out of 120 corners. Rollins played so much faster last year. As a rookie, Rollins played 322 snaps, intercepted two passes and broke up six others. This year, he played 702 snaps, intercepted one pass and broke up eight others. His touchdown count went from zero to the aforementioned seven. If Hyde re-signs, Rollins might be relegated to playing only in dime situations — not much of a return on investment for a second-round pick.
2016 cap: $526,666 (143rd at position)
If Randall and Rollins were disasters, then Hyde and Gunter were salvations. Gunter was forced to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback by default. He did what he could. Sometimes, his strengths (physicality and technique) outweighed his weaknesses (speed and quickness). Other times, the weaknesses outweighed the strengths. But he competed every week and never, ever backed down. According to Pro Football Focus, Gunter allowed a sturdy 56.2 percent completion rate. Those went for 769 yards (14.2 average) and six touchdowns. He didn’t intercept a pass but broke up 12 and forced the only two fumbles by a cornerback. He allowed a passer rating of 104.2. Yeah, he got torched at times, but that’s not Gunter’s fault. Really, should an undrafted player with 4.69 speed be forced to shadow elite receivers like Dez Bryant and Julio Jones in road playoff games? Of course not. Gunter can’t possibly be the No. 1 cornerback if this team is going to win a Super Bowl. But, as a role player, he should be a valuable contributor for years to come.
2016 cap: $484,612 (151st at position)
Goodson opened the season with a four-game suspension and ended it on injured reserve with a horrendous knee injury against Washington in Week 11. In between, he wound up playing 182 snaps — 36 vs. Dallas fresh off the suspension, 48 vs. Chicago and 61 vs. Atlanta in consecutive weeks. He broke up two passes in those games. He went from nine tackles on special teams to zero. Grade: D.
2016 cap: $450,000 (157th at position)
The Packers liked Hawkins enough to keep the undrafted rookie on the roster following a productive preseason. They didn’t like him enough to actually play him. Just before halftime in the Week 3 game against Detroit, Hawkins blew coverage and then blew the tackle on a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones. And that was that, with Hawkins playing one snap on defense for the rest of the regular season. No matter how badly Green Bay’s cornerback corps performed, Hawkins wasn’t a consideration until the playoff game against Dallas, when injuries struck and Hawkins was forced to play 15 snaps. He had four tackles on special teams but was guilty of three of the team’s 10 penalties for illegal blocks.
2016 cap: $347,824 (182nd at position)
Dorleant missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury that sent him to injured reserve. With Eddie Lacy (ankle) and Shields (concussion) not ready to return, the Packers picked Dorleant as their lone designated-for-return player. He played five snaps on defense and 45 on special teams before sustaining a torn ACL at Detroit.
2016 cap: $0 (NA at position)
Without Dorleant, the Packers called up Waters from the practice squad for the playoffs. A receiver at the University of Miami, he spent training camp and the preseason playing with the offense. During the second week of the regular season, he was moved to defense. At Miami’s pro day, he measured in at 5-foot-11 3/4 with a 4.51 in the 40 and a 38.5-inch vertical. He’ll get a long look in the offseason.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.