You might say the Packers have cornered the market on drafting cornerbacks.
You might also say the Packers have cornered the market on botching those draft picks. In the previous eight drafts, the Packers selected seven cornerbacks, including four in the first three rounds. Throw in Ron Wolf's cornerback hat trick of 1999, and the Packers have grabbed 10 cornerbacks in the last 10 drafts, including six in the first three rounds.
What do they have to show for it? Only Patrick Lee (second round, 2008) and Will Blackmon (fourth round, 2006) remain on the roster, and neither were core players on defense last season. Of the Packers' top three corners, Charles Woodson was signed as a free agent, Al Harris was acquired for a second-round pick and Tramon Williams went undrafted.
So, could the Packers be going back to the cornerback well in April? During last week's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Packers held formal interviews with the top two corners of this draft: Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis.
Questions surround both players. For Jenkins, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's top cornerback, it's his speed. For Davis, the brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, it's his maturity.
At the Scouting Combine, the jury was out on whether Jenkins would be drafted as a cornerback or safety, and he did himself no favors by running a mid-4.5-second 40-yard dash. Similar questions dogged Jenkins out of high school, reflected in his ranking as just a three-star recruit. But Jenkins rarely got beat at Ohio State, and his size (6-foot, 204 pounds) is a major positive as offenses employ more and more big receivers.
"I do what every other corner does," Jenkins said at the Combine. "If you put on a film of a guy that's 5-10, 185, I'm doing the same things that they're doing — at my size. In the league, you've got receivers that are bigger and more physical, and that's what you need, a guy that can do it all. With my size and speed, it's something rare that you really don't find a lot around the nation."
Scout.com's Chris Steuber has the Packers selecting Jenkins with the No. 9 pick in his latest mock draft.
"Malcolm Jenkins has outstanding size, cover skills and speed that made him one of the nation's elite defenders," he said. "He has quick feet, fluid hips and has the ability to blanket most receivers he lines up against. He anticipates the action extremely well and uses his quick burst to disrupt a play. He possesses great ball skills and demonstrates game-changing ability on defense."
Along with concerns about his speed, another knock on Jenkins is the Buckeyes played predominately zone coverage. Even with the change in defensive philosophies in Green Bay, man coverage figures to be used extensively.
On the other hand, Jenkins was seen as a leader during his final two seasons in Columbus, and he has impeccable character. He certainly fits the "Packers People" mold preferred by general manager Ted Thompson.
The same can't be said of Davis. Not that he's a bad guy or a criminal, but insiders tell us suffers from the same immaturity issues that plague his brother, who famously was sent to the showers by coach Mike Singletary during a game last season. He's been known to freelance on occasion, too, which led to big plays both for and against Davis.
Get past that, though, and Davis is the most talented and athletically gifted cornerback in this draft. At 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, he's comparable in size to Jenkins, and he dominated the tests at the Combine with the second-best performance in the 40 and the top output in the 225-pound bench press. He's a hard hitter who led the Illini in forced fumbles, and he's played a lot of zone and man in college.
"Vontae Davis is a physical cornerback with lockdown ability," said Steuber, who believes Davis is an option at No. 9 for the Packers, as well. "He has excellent footwork, fluid hips and the tenacious attitude to deliver a devastating hit. He's strong at the point of attack, aggressive throughout routes and has success against small and tall receivers. He has a great sense of timing, possesses a quick burst and flashes great ball skills that turn defense into offense instantly. He's also a standout on special teams in the return game and on the coverage unit."
Meeting with reporters at the Combine, Saints coach Sean Payton talked about the difficulty of projecting a college cornerback's talents to the NFL. Because of the propensity of spread offenses, along with the wider hashmarks and the more simplistic defenses, it's no surprise that teams often are wrong in their evaluations.
"It's a tough position to evaluate," Payton said, "because at the college level, there's times when they're being asked to do one thing more than another, and it's hard for us to say, ‘He's always going to do one thing,' because at some point, you need to play something other than Cover-2. As soon as you do, the quarterbacks' going to work that side if you're not proficient enough to at least play something fairly well."
Ten years of Packers cornerbacks
Here is the list of cornerbacks drafted by the Packers in the last 10 years. Of the 10, only two are starters: Chris Johnson, who burst onto the scene in Oakland last year, and Mike McKenzie, who played in only seven games.
— Pat Lee, second round, 2008
— Will Blackmon, fourth round, 2006
— Mike Hawkins, fifth round, 2005
— Ahmad Carroll, first round, 2004
— Joey Thomas, third round, 2004
— Chris Johnson, seventh round, 2003
— Bhawoh Jue, third round, 2001
— Antuan Edwards, first round, 1999
— Fred Vinson, second round, 1999
— Mike McKenzie, third round, 1999
Note: The Packers used three other first-round picks on cornerbacks in the 1990s: Craig Newsome (1995), Terrell Buckley (1992) and Vinnie Clark (1991). Newsome was a fine player, but the best Packers' cornerback in that era was Doug Evans, a sixth-rounder in 1993. What do you think about free agency and the draft?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and 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 Lambeau Level forum.