By: Bill Tewes
Has Ted Thompson built a secondary that is worthy of being the #1 rated secondary in the league?
It is no secret that the Green Bay Packers’ secondary was not the same after the untimely and unfortunate retirement of safety Nick Collins. GM Ted Thompson has done some excellent work in the subsequent years after Collins’ departure to address the average to below average secondary play. All of the draft picks, coupled with consistently strong defensive line play, as well as Clay Matthews moving back to outside linebacker are the perfect storm for Green Bay’s secondary becoming a mirror image of Seattle’s vaunted Legion of Boom.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is the most recognizable name of Thompson’s secondary draft selections (21st overall in the 2014 draft). Clinton-Dix has been solid for Green Bay in pass coverage in the two years he has been a Packer and has excelled on run defense. If we are sticking with the Legion of Boom theme, it is not out of the question to hope that Clinton-Dix has a similar career to Kam Chancellor. Clinton-Dix is a rising star in this league and in his first two years, has shown durability in not missing a game.
The real excitement begins when we look at the team’s cornerbacks and realize the potential that the 2015 first and second round draft picks bring to the table. Thompson selected Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins back-to-back and most Packer fans were scratching their heads, wondering what Thompson knew this time. Well after a year of NFL experience for both and consistently solid play, it is safe to say Thompson has hit on both of these picks.
Randall had an impressive interception in the second preseason game against Oakland and showed signs of all out ball hawking skills last season as a rookie. Randall came up in the clutch three times, first against San Diego in what was a game sealing batted pass, secondly, against Carolina in what should have been an eventual game tying play after the turnover and lastly against Arizona in that dreaded playoff game where he picked off Carson Palmer in the end-zone. Randall will continue to build on this experience opposite Sam Shields.
Shields is no doubt currently the best piece Green Bay has in it’s secondary. The only real drawback to Shields is that he has been perpetually injured over the course of the past couple of seasons. Shields body of work is undeniable and his speed is an essential piece to putting Green Bay in the top five secondary discussion. The team has Shields signed through the end of the 2017 season.
The player I am the most excited about is Quentin Rollins. According to Pro Football Focus, Rollins held opposing quarterbacks to a 58.1 rating into coverage. Which was tied for third-lowest among cornerbacks last season. That is impressive to say the least, even with a small sample size. Rollins has the skill to be the shutdown cornerback in this league. Also according to PFF, Rollins graded out as the 22nd best cornerback in the entire NFL in his rookie campaign. There is a lot to like about Rollins’ game and we will see a lot more of him this year with the departure of Casey Hayward.
The rest of the secondary features consistently solid players. Morgan Burnett, while not flashy, has contributed a ton in recent years and had his best year as a Packer this past season, despite missing three games. Burnett graded out as a top five safety last year and will continue to provide quiet, yet efficient play as not only one of the team’s best run stoppers, but also in coverage.
Micah Hyde might be the worst piece of the secondary, but has some upside as a physical player as well as a good special-teams guy. I would definitely be worried if he was thrust into a starting role again, as he was not very good last season. But Hyde adds hybrid depth as he can play both safety and cornerback and has proven capable of grabbing an occasional interception the past couple of years. The same can essentially be said about Chris Banjo. Banjo has been with the team for the past three seasons and has provided depth and versatility, but still has yet to show any real potential that he can better his game.
I expect cornerback Ladarius Gunter and safety Kentrell Brice to make the team and finish out the secondary depth. Gunter has been a solid preseason player last year and in the first two games of this preseason. Brice has the measurables and speed to be yet another UDFA that Thompson has hit on. It is also not out of the question for cornerback Josh Hawkins to push Gunter for a final roster spot, as he has made some strides in camp and also had an interception against Oakland.