Damarious Randall, after a dismal second season, sees better things for himself and the defense in 2017.
“I just feel like we have the ability to be a top-five secondary this year,” Randall said this week.
The Packers bolstered the cornerback corps with the additions of veteran Davon House and top draft pick Kevin King. But if Green Bay is going to field a championship-caliber defense, a huge bounce-back season from Randall is critical.
Randall was the team’s first-round pick in 2015 and turned in a strong rookie season. But his second season was a disaster, starting with a groin injury that required midseason surgery and kept him out of the lineup for six games. Even when he did play, Randall wasn’t himself.
“I didn’t want to tackle nobody, because I was afraid to tweak it, pull it, hurt it again,” Randall said.
His coverage wasn’t any better. 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. Because of groin, foot, knee and shoulder injuries, Randall played less than half of the defensive snaps. Still, according to PFF’s best guess on coverage responsibilities, no cornerback in the NFL allowed more touchdown receptions than Randall.
Healthy again, Randall speaks confidently about returning to his standard of play — and the rest of the secondary following suit after finishing 31st in pass defense last year.
“He’s really never lacked for confidence,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said on Thursday. “Not necessarily pointing him out, but the performance of the group in whole wasn’t to the standard. And I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses, but him and Quinten (Rollins) had legitimate injuries. (Randall) had surgery during the season, (Rollins) had surgery right after the season, (had) multiple injuries on their bodies.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to win games, we’re not here to make excuses, and our play wasn’t good enough as a group. What he went through last year was legitimate. I don’t know if you can think back to 2011; Sam (Shields) had a down year. And he came back in my opinion in 2012 and probably had his second-best year. I thought ’15 was Sam’s best year, then ’12 and then ’14, which was the year he made the Pro Bowl. You can have a down year and come back and play strong.”
That’s Randall’s expectation now that the injuries are behind him. He’s spent much of the offseason playing in the slot, with House and LaDarius Gunter on the outside.
“I’m not injured anymore, so it feels good to be healthy,” he said. “Obviously, people know how I play whenever I am healthy and ready to go. I mean, I don’t think a lot of people dealt with some of the things I’ve dealt with and tried to play through those type of injuries.”
Even through the injuries, Randall showed the occasional glimmer of his exceptional ability last year. Like he did as a rookie, Randall intercepted three passes during the regular season and added one more in the playoffs. His across-the-field interception in a late-season victory against Seattle was one of the defensive highlights of the season.
Can those type of plays become commonplace this season? It’s been said so often that it’s practically become a cliche, but if Randall mirrors Davante Adams’ career trajectory — promising rookie season, injury-ravaged second season, breakout third season — then the Packers should be right back in the championship mix come January.
“I’m not going to put a number or a quote on it,” Randall said. “I’m just going to say the sky’s the limit for me. People will see what Damarious Randall is all about.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.