What Should We Expect From Packers Cornerbacks This Year

Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas might be the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL, but we haven't really had a chance to see them play together much. So what should we expect?

There's a lot of optimism about the Packers cornerback group, but is it warranted? Let's dive a little deeper into who these guys are and what they can do for this defense.

First off, I don't think we're even positive what each of these guys even are.

Is Eric Stokes an ascending young talent or is he headed for a sophomore slump?

Is Rasul Douglas an accomplished vet who finally realized his potential or is he just a flash in the pan one-year wonder?

Is Jaire Alexander a superstar ready to reclaim the title of best cornerback in the NFL or is he a guy who is going to be forever changed after an injury that cost him most of the season?

The biggest question mark has to be Jaire Alexander's injury. Sure, he played in the playoffs, but it very sparingly, and only in situations where the team though he wouldn't have to tackle. Sure enough, in crunch time, the 49ers ran right at him and he shied away from a tackle that the Packers needed to hold the 49ers to a longer field goal. He wasn't ready for contact. We can only hope that another 6 months of rest and rehab gets his shoulder back near 100%.

The NFL is a year to year league and injuries are just one reason why we can never really be sure how much past performance we'll see in the future.

If all of these guys play to their potential, the Packers would be great... but isn't that true of every team? Players don't always play to their potential every year (look at Preston Smith's consistently inconsistent sack production from year to year for an example).

In cornerbacks, the production most fans look for is interceptions.

Jaire Alexander's career high in interceptions is only 2.

Rasul Douglas had 5 picks last year, but that looks like an anomaly considering he had 0 picks in his previous two seasons, despite playing 30 games.

Eric Stokes slipped to the end of the 1st round in the draft in large part because of his lack of interceptions (he had only 1 interception in 16 games as a rookie).

So instead of looking at production, let's look at what each of these players brings to the table.

Alexander is an undersized, feisty, amazingly fast harasser, capable of the most improbably splash plays.

Stokes is a far more boring player - he just uses his speed and athleticism to stick on this hip of his man so QBs don't even throw his way.

Douglas is the crafty veteran of the bunch - with the lowest timed speed (by far), he relies on positioning, instincts, and film study to be effective. 

These guys all had different scouting reports coming out of college, too. When Alexander came out, my report on him was that he's everything you want in a corner, except size. Douglas was everything you want in a corner, except speed. Stokes was everything you want in a corner, except ball skills.

They are three exceptionally talented cornerbacks that all have different strengths and weaknesses. Alexander and Stokes don't get a lot of picks and I expect teams to run a lot of film study on Douglas, who took two interceptions back for touchdowns last season, limiting his opportunities at takeaways.

But there's a lot more to cornerbacks than just interceptions.

I think these guys are gonna be coverage demons.

Alexander and Stokes have the speed to run with anybody in this league. Anybody. Douglas has the ability to be effective in coverage despite his lack of speed. Alexander is undersized, but Douglas is long and tall. Stokes has an average build.

That's three potentially great corners with three very different builds and styles.

This will allow them to play all kinds of formations. There's a lot of talk about who will play slot and I think the answer is everybody. If there's a quick waterbug slot receiver, Alexander can take him. If there's a big slot receiver, Douglas can take him. If there's a fast, taller slot, Stokes can take him.

All three have proven they can play on the outside, too. The Packers will have the ability to start in one formation and switch things up in-game seamlessly if they aren't working. They can even swap around play to play to keep offenses on their toes.

There will inevitably be some bumps along the way, though.

Maybe Jaire will have some lingering effects from his shoulder injury. Maybe Stokes will regress a bit in his second year. Maybe teams will be more cautious about throwing at Douglas. Each of them will probably have a bad game along the way, too. It happens.

But even if these guys don't play to their full potential, they are still going to be very good. Adding a couple 1st round picks to the front 7 will help the pass rush, too, making them even more effective. 

I still don't think there's a lot of interceptions coming from this group, but tight coverage, coupled with a good pass rush, will lead to a lot of sacks and throwaways, which are big wins for a defense. I think offenses will have to counter this by going with a short-range passing attack.

The speed of Alexander and Stokes (not to mention Savage and Amos and the linebackers), should be able to keep a short-range passing attack under control.

If things go even remotely according to plan, this versatile cornerback group will smother any type of passing attack and lead the Packers defense into the top 5 rankings tier.

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

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5 points

Comments (27)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
packerbackerjim's picture

June 19, 2022 at 06:37 am

I’m really looking forward to seeing the D, particularly the DBs. Jerry Gray will be tasked with getting Stokes to the next level, and tweaking Douglas and Alexander. Douglas displayed some of the best hands of any DBs in a very small sample size. Jaire will be contending for All-Pro once again. Can’t wait till the pads come on.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 19, 2022 at 06:38 am

I didn't think Stokes slipped to the end of the 1st round but climbed there. IIRC the other Georgia CB, Campbell, was higher ranked pretty much all Spring but by the draft it was thought they might have flipped. Campbell went a few picks later, I read somewhere before this year's draft that he was on of a few bright spots for Jacksonville.

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stockholder's picture

June 19, 2022 at 07:22 am

I'd still move Douglas to safety. He's the best tackler of the bunch. Quote: "He relies on positioning, instincts, and film study to be effective." And while Savage continues to struggle. I'd consider moving him into the slot. He wants to play closer to the LOS.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:25 am

I like where your head is at this morning stock!

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Oppy's picture

June 19, 2022 at 03:22 pm

Stokes is struggling?

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PatrickGB's picture

June 19, 2022 at 07:36 am

My only worry is the fourth CB or maybe the third Safety. Teams picked on the backups a lot and the TE’s always seemed to be open. But I like the starters. More interceptions would be nice yet that’s why they play defense and not offense. Some interceptions are pure luck anyway.

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mrtundra's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:05 am

Who our 4th CB will be is the big question. Whether Gute signs a FA there or promotes from within, that guy will be the one opposing QBs picks on, to move the chains. I hope the new guy, whomever he is, can play up to the level of Stokes, Douglas and Alexander, quickly, or we will have a weak link in our secondary and the hole there, that is exposed, will be huge.

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NoNonsense's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:35 am

Well I think we have 3 or 4 different but good options for the 4th CB. Shemar Jean Charles Keisan Nixon, Kabion Ento and Rico Gafford. Or maybe Raleigh Texada comes out of left field and takes it. Not a bad group and we will see who emerges.

At Safety I think Shawn Davis takes the #3 job and runs with it but they also have Innis Gaines. Vernon Scott and the very athletic rookie Tariq Carpenter in the mix.

Whoever wins those jobs will have to be good on special teams as well. We also know Gute will turn over as many stones to find good players as he has to, to find the right guys for those jobs.

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PeteK's picture

June 19, 2022 at 09:55 am

Yes, we have choices with some experience and room to develop. We managed two 13 win seasons with Sullivan playing a lg roll so we can still hold it together.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2022 at 09:05 am

WHAT!?!?

Choices with experience?

Shemar Jean Charles Keisan Nixon, Kabion Ento and Rico Gafford. Or maybe Raleigh Texada

These guys?

There is promise there, but don't use the word experience. wow, just wow.

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PeteK's picture

June 20, 2022 at 05:30 pm

All the players you mentioned have SOME experience because they are not rookies and have seen SOME action.

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Grandfathered's picture

June 19, 2022 at 10:56 pm

Did we ever hear definitavely whether Carpenter was a S or LB?

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NickPerry's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:26 am

Really nice piece Bruce, I think your observations on the Packers top 3 CB's are dead on.

I'm hoping with Alexander his shoulder is just fine. I would imagine the Packers medical staff performed every test imaginable on it before handing him that contract. The Packers are so careful with injuries AND contracts I'd imagine Alexander is about as close to 100% as a player could be.

If Stokes can just get a little better finding the ball in the air, I think he'll start coming up with a few picks. How many times did we see him in coverage last year thinking just LOOK for the ball Eric. I think the picks will start to come this year. Probably not a bunch, but more than one.

Douglas isn't a one year wonder. Like Cambell he was put in a defense that suited his skills. BUT the one thing Alexander, Stokes, and Douglas all have going for them is Jerry Gray. IMO there's not a better DB coach in the NFL. I think year 2 in this system is only going to be better...MUCH better.

The Packers also have a secret weapon this year in the middle. Not only with Campbell, but Quay Walker. PatrickGB mentioned the opposing teams TE always seem to be open...Opposing TE's, meet Quay Walker. Obviously Savage and Amos will have a lot to do and say about TE success, but I think with Walker and a little time to learn, he can help erase all the success TE's have had. I also can't wait to see him run an A Gap blitz the first time, hopefully against Cousins week one. A guy that BIG and that FAST is going to shoot that gap so quickly, opposing offenses will have a hard time stopping him.

Hell, if I was Joe Barry, I'd put players like Dalvin Cook, with injury history's like Cook's, in position to make business decisions as often as I could. A 6'4" and 245 lbs man coming that fast will be tough to handle, especially with Clark blowing up the middle and Gary and Smith coming on the edges...WHEW, this is going to be FUN!

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PeteK's picture

June 19, 2022 at 10:12 am

Also, don't forget our improved middle with Reed and Wyatt.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

June 19, 2022 at 11:16 am

I think you hit the nail on the head. Jaire pre-injury was starting to look like Richard Sherman - not a big statistical output because QBs simply refused to throw his way. This year, I'm assuming teams shade away from Douglas, which means they will be throwing at either our fastest corner and praying for DPI, at Amos, who is another ball hawk in his own right, or to try to target what could end up being one of the better LB tandems in the NFL (and Campbell has already shown himself as a plus pass defender).

Way too early in the year to make this prediction but the Packers defense could end up being a no fly zone

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Guam's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:35 am

I like the Packer corners, but Ilike the pass rush even more. With the additions of Walker, Wyatt and Reed, the Packer front seven got much stronger over the off-season and that will help the secondary significantly. Pressure on the QB may result in more picks and fewer completions - both positives for the secondary. I am excited about this defense! My only concern is the injury bug......

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PeteK's picture

June 19, 2022 at 10:23 am

We have cap space to add some players if the bug hits. However, we served that master last season and those intangibles usually even out.

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Guam's picture

June 20, 2022 at 08:25 am

I hope you are right about the injury bug. Losing Z. Smith and Alexander last year hurt our defense.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:37 am

If I had to set one expectation for the CB room to focus on it would be physical preparation.

This because availability will be the most critical ability for the room to meet performance expectations.

With a complete unknown quantity behind the big 3 having the big 3 available all season will be the key to them meeting performance expectations and allowing the other position groups to also reach theirs, lest we forget that it is still a TEAM game and the 3 depths of defense rely upon one another for overall TEAM success.

Nixon, Jean-Charles, Ento, Gafford, Texada, Thomas... one or two of these guys needs to step up or Gutey will be sifting through the detritus again looking for those 4th and 5th guys to round out the room and elevate special teams.

Camp is gonna be competitive.

The same focus and principles apply to the Safety where the depth is inexperienced at best and will take some sorting out. I like Gaines, lets see if his second year leap gets him to the 53.

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Stroh's picture

June 19, 2022 at 02:45 pm

You realize that we're might be looking for a good 4th or 5th CB, while most teams don't have 2 or 3?!

Nixon finished OTA with a solid grasp of the #4 CB and is the closest to a true slot CB.

I'd say we have 4 solid to great CB. And we're maybe interested in figuring out who the #5 and 6 CB are!

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2022 at 08:57 am

wow, just wow.

4 - FOUR - good to great CB.

Wow, how in the hell in any universe can you say that with a straight face. You destroy any credibility your statement may have by using the number 4 with the likes of

Nixon
Ento
Jean-Charles
Gafford
Moe
Larry
Curly

as the potential fourth name on your future HOFer list.

Just delusional...

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Dzehren's picture

June 19, 2022 at 09:34 am

Yes Yes and Yes! CB position locked and loaded.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

June 19, 2022 at 09:59 am

I EXPECT TO SEE MORE INTERCEPTIONS FROM THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD. Why?

The talent level of our corner backs is a good as it gets. We show good speed, anticipation, and closing. What will make a big difference is the play of the front seven for the Packers.

I really like the looks of our defensive line with potential push from Kenny Clark; the rookie first rounder, Devonte Wyatt; free agent pickup Jarran Reed. Add in Dean Lowery, and a second year jump from J T Slaton and it's looks much improved with depth.

The two middle linebackers we have which includes a 2021 pro bowler, Campbell, along with our first round pick Quay Walker and to me that defense looks like a powerhouse.

If we stay healthy, the play from Preston Smith will be excellent and the play from our other starter, Rashan Gary could be on a pro bowl level this year. I noticed he was attending the OTA while a number of the veterans were passing on it. To me that looks like a player who is expecting to have a great year.

Trip to the Super Bowl anyone?

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2022 at 08:59 am

rev it up buddy, keep that tach in the red...

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

June 20, 2022 at 10:35 am

Thanks Blood. I hope I don't blow the engine, but she will whine when I nail it.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

June 19, 2022 at 08:17 pm

Throwing in my obligatory "Keep an eye on Raleigh Texada" comment. He's a Jaire clone.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2022 at 09:02 am

Oh, a Jaire clone, so THAT'S why he was an UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT.

Those NFL talent evaluators are just soooooo stoopid!

Lookie here, I hope all 90 of the players in camp just kick ass and become the most dominant team in the nfL for years to come too, but c'mon man, maybe we just keep it a little rational, huh?

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