2020 Season in Review - Cornerbacks
Another day, another position! In our eight instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the cornerbacks. How did they fair in 2020?
Jaire Alexander truly came of age in 2020. After an excellent 2019, he moved into the upper echelon of NFL corners – many believe that he is at the very top, but we can say with some certainty that he is in the top 3. Multiple honours came his way, reflecting the season that he had – Pro Bowl starter, AP 2nd Team All-Pro, PFF 1st Team All-Pro, Pro Football Journal 2nd Team All-Pro and PFWA All-NFC.
His selection to the Pro Bowl made Alexander the first Packers corner to be so honoured since Sam Shields in 2014 and the his AP 2nd Team All-Pro selection made him the first Packers corner since Charles Woodson in 2011 to be named to an AP All-Pro team.
Packers CB Pro Bowl Selections since 1938
5 - Herb Adderley
4 - Charles Woodson
3 - Willie Buchanon
2 - Bob Jeter
1 - Jesse Whittenton, Ken Ellis, Sam Shields, Jaire Alexander
Alexander is the epitome of a shutdown corner, able to blanket cover and remove the best wide receivers from games. But don’t just take our word for how good Alexander was – PFF graded him as their highest graded CB (90.5), had their highest grade for coverage (90.6) and had a grade of 91.7 in single coverage. PFF also credited Alexander with a forced incompletion rate of 21.4% - second best in the NFL. PFF also credited him with conceding just 3337 yards on 35 catches, with 2 touchdowns across the Regular Season.
Alexander played and started in 15 games, missing just 1 game when he was on the gameday inactive list (week 10 against Jacksonville). He had 1 interception for -4 yards, 13 passes defensed and a sack (which was a huge play – a safety – against Minnesota in week 1). He notched up 49 tackles (39 solo), including 2 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble and 1 QB hit.
We should expect more of the same from Jaire Alexander in 2021. If the Packers can secure the CB spot opposite him, they will possibly have the best secondary in the entire NFL.
Regardless, it is going to exciting to watch Alexander progress through his NFL career. The good news is that the Packers don’t have a contract decision to make on him yet – he’s 3 years into his rookie deal (4 years plus an option year).
In 2020, Kevin King was…well, Kevin King. King’s whole Packer career appears to go around in never-ending circles – it seems to many critics and so called experts that when he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s very bad. And when he’s neither of those two things he’s probably injured. In fairness to King, across the majority of his Packers career he has been a solid corner whose career has been blighted by injuries – not least the chronic shoulder injury that goes back to his college days. It is unfortunate, but it’s likely that we’ve never quite seen, consistently, how good King could be.
King is at his best when in man coverage in the short to intermediate areas, with help over the top to cover the deep pass. It appears that he sometimes gets lost in zone coverage. He has the ability to play physical, but that is hampered by the shoulder injury which sometimes prevents from wrapping up on tackles.
King played 11 games (all starts) in 2020 – he was inactive for the other 5 games (with a quad injury early in the season and an achilles injury later in the year. After leading the Packers in interceptions in 2019 with 5, he had none in 2020. He did notch up 57 tackles (45 solo), 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery (for 48 yards).
King came under fire for his play in the NFC Championship Game – particularly the last play of the first half. And that probably means the end of his time in Green Bay. He is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore it’s likely that he’ll be playing his football with another team in 2021.
As an exclusive rights free agent after the 2019 season, there was little doubt that the Packers would bring Sullivan back for 2020 and so it proved – he signed a new 1-year contract in April. Sullivan continues to be an invaluable contributor to the Packers defense, playing primarily as the slot corner.
In 2020, Sullivan played in all 16 games (the only Packers corner to do so), starting in 10 of those – 9 of those starts coming in games when the Packers started with 3 corners, the other when Alexander was injured. Sullivan had a solid year without perhaps taking the leap forward that the Packers would have wanted – he finished the year with 40 tackles (30 solo), 6 passes defensed and had 1 interception which came in week 3 v Lions – which Sullivan returned 7 yards for a touchdown. He was credited with 4 missed tackles. Sullivan also had 1 special teams tackle (1 solo).
Sullivan has been a dependable slot corner for the Packers for a couple of years now. Whether he can take a step up to the next level remains to be seen. Has he plateaued as a corner? The other question we wonder with Sullivan is whether he could help at safety.
He is now a restricted free agent, but we should expect that the Packers will put at least an original round tender on him (worth approximately $2.1m) and we should see him back with the team in 2021.
Jackson was the Packers' 2nd round pick in the 2018 draft, and the team had high hopes that he would develop into a good starting cornerback. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case yet – indeed every time he takes a step forward it seems to be followed by one backwards. The Packers coaching staff seemed to lose confidence in Jackson as the season progressed to the point where he was placed on the gameday inactive list for the last 4 games of the season, even though he was physically ready and able to play.
Jackson played in 12 games in 2020, with 5 starts and had those 4 aforementioned games on the inactive list. His 5 starts came when Kevin King was injured and although he was beaten up a little bit by Tampa Bay (week 6), Jackson actually wasn’t that bad when pressed into starting action. But he remains inconsistent. For the season, he had 24 tackles (21 solo), 1 tackle for a loss and 2 passes defensed. Jackson also returned 2 punts for 13 yards (6.5 average) and had 2 special teams tackles (both assists).
Jackson has one year left on his rookie deal. He may be back with the team in 2021, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise if the Packers cut him loose. In doing so, they could save $1.33m against the 2021 salary cap.
Hollman was the no.4 corner on the Packers' depth chart in 2020, playing in 14 games (was on the gameday inactive list for the other 2 games) and starting in 1 game (week 10 v Jacksonville) when the Packers started with 3 corners. Other than the start, and the week 9 game v 49ers, Hollman spent nearly all of his time playing on the special teams coverage units where he is a dependable performer (2 tackles, both assists). For the season he had 8 tackles (7 solo) and 3 passes defensed.
We should expect to see Hollman back in 2021 competing for a roster spot but it’s likely he’ll be in a real battle with the likes of Josh Jackson, Kabion Ento, Stanford Samuels, and any rookies they bring in for a place on the depth chart.
Stanford Samuels III
Samuels was well liked as a potential late round selection in the 2020 draft, but in the end he went undrafted. The Packers were quick to snap him up post draft by signing him as an undrafted free agent on 29th April. Samuels competed for the no.5 CB spot before being waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September. The Packers signed him to their Practice Squad the following day.
Samuels was elevated to the active roster twice (week 9 and week 10) and saw a little action in both games. He ended the year back on the Practice Squad, having played in just those 2 games (0 starts) and had 2 tackles (all solos) on defense and 1 on special teams (a solo tackle).
Samuels was signed to a new contract on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him strongly competing for a roster spot again this year.
Veteran Tramon Williams entered 2020 without a contract (having been with the Packers in 2019) and was idle until the Baltimore Ravens signed him on 10th November. He remained with the Ravens through the end of the Regular Season (notching up 15 tackles, 1 pass defensed and 2 QB hits) and the first play-off game – before the Ravens were knocked out of the AFC play-offs.
Having been released by the Ravens immediately after their season was over, the Packers made a move by signing Williams to their Practice Squad on 21st January (replacing P Ryan Winslow). Williams was activated from the Practice Squad to the Packers active roster for the NFC Championship Game.
Williams will always be remembered by Packers fans for his 10+ years in Green Bay, which included 30 career interceptions (tied 9th all-time in team history). It seems likely that Williams will now retire. It would be surprising to see him back in 2021. For certain, Williams will one day be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
Ento is a speedster (4.4 40 time) who was on the Packers Practice Squad in 2019. He signed a reserve/futures contract with the team for the 2020 season and had a good chance of making the roster until he broke a bone in his foot. Ento made the team at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster, but the injury forced him onto Injured Reserve on 7th September – however, this meant he would be eligible to return in 2020 once physically able to do so.
Unfortunately for Ento he didn’t return during the Regular Season, although he was designated to return in the week leading up to the NFC Championship Game meaning that he could have been activated for the Super Bowl if the Packers had made it.
Ento is now an exclusive rights free agent, so we should expect see the Packers sign him to a minimum deal contract and be back in 2021 competing for a roster spot.
Nickerson was a 6th round draft choice of the Jets in 2018 but has struggled since then to hold down a roster spot – having spent time with the Jets, Seahawks, and Jaguars. The Packers signed him to their active roster on 7th September 2020, after he was released by the Jaguars on the final roster cutdown, 2 days earlier. Nickerson was inactive for the first 4 games of the season before playing against Tampa Bay in week 6 – sadly, he suffered a hamstring injury in that game and was placed on Injured Reserve shortly afterwards.
Unfortunately for Nickerson he didn’t return during the Regular Season, although he was designated to return in the week leading up to the NFC Championship Game meaning that he could have been activated for the Super Bowl if the Packers had made it.
Nickerson is now a restricted free agent – but it remains to be seen whether or not the Packers would look to bring him back in 2021 – if they offered him a 1 year tender worth around $2.1m, it would secure the Packers a 6th round draft pick in compensation if he signed for more money somewhere else.
Having been a 2016 3rd round draft choice, KeiVarae Russell had spent time with multiple teams in the NFL (Chiefs, Bengals, Chargers, Giants) over the past 4 years before the Packers signed him to their Practice Squad on 28th October 2020. He was elevated to the active roster for a single game (week 10 v Jacksonville) during the regular season and was also elevated for both play-off games. Russell didn’t see any action on the defensive unit in those games – all of his snaps coming on special teams.
Russell has athleticism and speed (4.43 in the 40) and therefore may still have a chance at sticking in the pros. The Packers signed him to a new contract on 26th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot in Green Bay again this year.
No Longer With the Team
A little surprisingly, Will Sunderland went unselected in the 2020 draft. But not surprisingly he was quickly signed as an undrafted free agent – the Packers signing him on 29th April. He was in competition for that no.5 CB role on the Packers depth chart, but an injury hampered his chances. The Packers placed Sunderland on the waived/injured list on 5th September (final cutdown day) - by rule he reverted to Injured Reserve until an injury settlement could be agreed.
That happened on 9th September and Sunderland became a street free agent.
Sunderland was signed by the Indianapolis Colts to their Practice Squad on 27th October.
Fresh off an all-star 2019 season in the CFL (Calgary Stampeders), Amos was signed by the Packers to a reserve/futures contract on 15th January. It was hoped that he could parlay his 5 interception season in 2019 into a roster spot but that wasn’t to be as Amos was waived on 5th September at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster.
In October, Amos was selected by the Aviators of the Spring League in their draft.
University of Montreal product Dequoy sparked the interest of NFL teams when he ran a 4.35 40 in his pro day. Although we went unselected in the 2020 draft, the Packers quickly snapped him up at the first opportunity on 29th April. However, Dequoy was competing in a very full defensive backfield group and was waived by the Packers on 15th August.
In January 2021, Dequoy was signed by the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
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