Our third look at this year's 2020 NFL Draft as it relates to the Green Bay Packers takes a look at the position the Packers have spent the most Draft capital on in recent memory: defensive backs (cornerbacks, safeties, nickelbacks, and hybrids).
Green Bay's taken a defensive back with a first- or second-round pick five times in the past three years, and eight times in the past six Drafts. Eight of their 13 first- or second-round picks since 2014 have addressed the defensive backfield, with 10 defensive backs drafted in six years. Because of that trend, the position group will be in focus for all three days of the NFL Draft April 23-25.
Here's the Packers' NFL Draft pick order as of today:
One of the common traits of defenders drafted by the Packers in the past few years has been speed. While raw speed isn't at all an indicator of guaranteed NFL success, it is a key component in how defenses like the Packers operate. Speed on the edges forces quarterbacks to make quick decisions. Speed at linebacker allows for versatility in rushing the passer, covering a flat or curl, and dropping back in coverage. Speed on the back end allows defensive backs to challenge receivers up the field and over the top, knowing help will arrive a little more quickly. It would be surprising if the Packers picked a project player with low athleticism numbers to play in the secondary, so for the most part, I've omitted otherwise similarly-ranked players for the purposes of a Packers preview.
Let's start with cornerback, where the model has been set under Brian Gutekunst: speed, with size, equals strong consideration. Of the top four prospects, the one that fits the Packers' scheme the best is TCU's Jeff Gladney. Blessed with speed and a willingness to mix it up in the run game, Gladney represents the traits that the Packers have emphasized with their defensive backs of recent ilk. Gladney's red flag is a knee injury suffered early in his college career, but he has played solidly in college and projects to be a late first/early second in this year's Draft.
It's unlikely the Packers will have a chance at the top three cornerback prospects, so we set our sights on players who might be available in the second or third round. There is a tremendous amount of depth in this area of the Draft for cornerbacks, so the Packers will have a shot at several players. Some of the corners with larger frames and good athleticism include Clemson's A.J. Terrell and Utah's Jaylon Johnson, while some of the smaller, yet still athletic players on the board include Notre Dame's Troy Pride, Jr. and Auburn's Noah Igbinoghene. The second and third rounds are loaded with defensive backs with high-end athleticism, so players like Terrell and Ohio State's Damon Arnette make sense for the Packers given their ability to play press man coverage. Project players or converted receivers, such as Igbinoghene or Alabama's Trevon Diggs, make a little sense given their upside, but Green Bay's trajectory is to win now. That's why a player like Virginia's Bryce Hall or UCLA's Darnay Holmes could fit in as well, given that they could fill a niche like nickel corner with their intangibles and quickness as Day 2 picks.
Cornerbacks on Day 3 tend to come down to scheme fits or athletic freaks to be used as project or depth players. If anyone from the Day 2/3 projections slides down, the factors that make them attractive as picks in rounds 2 and 3 apply here as well. The fastest cornerback at the NFL Combine was Utah's Javelin Guidry, running a blazing 4.29 40-yard dash. He's projected as a mid-round pick. However, his size (5'9") puts him in a bucket of players such as Michigan State's Josiah Scott that have plenty of speed and athleticism, but not the size that the Packers seem to enjoy in the defensive backfield. Green Bay is also usually seeking some versatility in their hybrid defensive schemes, so big-bodied corners like Nebraska's Lamar Jackson or Fresno State's Jaron Bryant are attractive late-round options, where Green Bay selects five times in the final two rounds.
Safety projects a little differently in that the fastest or most athletic bodies end up on the edges, but for the Packers, Mike Pettine's defense requires safeties to not only be athletic enough to make plays but to be smart enough to align players just before the snap. That's why one of the early-round targets for the Packers could be Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn, who lined up all over the defense and had the third-fastest 40 time of any safety in this year's NFL Combine, tying Minnesota sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr. at 4.45 despite being five inches taller than Winfield at 6'3". Chinn is highly regarded for his versatility and playmaking, two buzzwords that should be familiar to Packers fans as it relates to defensive backs. Another early-round type that probably won't escape the first round is LSU's Grant Delpit, who didn't run in the NFL Combine but has plenty of credentials as a two-time All American and won the Jim Thorpe award last season as the nation's top defensive back. At 6'3", he's another big-bodied athlete that can fly.
In the middle to late rounds, the Packers could target heady, athletic players such as Clemson's Tanner Muse (second-best 40 time among safeties at the NFL Combine) or Louisiana Tech's L'Jarius Sneed, a converted corner who ran a 4.37 40, the second-fastest time among all defensive backs at this year's NFL Combine. An intriguing prospect is Kyle Dugger of Lenoir-Rhyne, one of the nation's top Division II athletes who boasts huge testing numbers.
For those following for strictly Wisconsin native or Wisconsin Badgers purposes, there's no defensive backs that are likely to be NFL players from either the Badgers program or from the state's high school football ranks this year. After the NFL Draft, defensive back is usually one of the positions that teams load up on for competition in camp, and the Packers have certainly found serviceable players from the undrafted free agent pool, most notably Sam Shields in recent memory.
If the Packers do go hunting for defensive backs, it will likely be for players that have can't-miss athleticism that fall from their projected landing spots, at least early on. Given the recent Draft history, you wouldn't think that the franchise would continue to invest high picks in the defensive backfield given the needs in other areas of the team (such as wide receiver and linebacker), but as every single general manager and coach in football will tell you, they will take the best player available. The depth of this year's Draft is in rounds 2-4, so don't be surprised if the Packers add to their collection of hybrid defensive backs or cover corners once we reach Saturday's portion of the event.
The NFL Draft is April 23-25 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo: Getty Images (Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illnois)