This is the seventh and final entry in a series of stories examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. The series concludes with the defensive backs.
GREEN BAY – If Brian Gutekunst’s first draft choice as the Packers’ general manager was a sign of things to come, the future appears bright for Green Bay’s locker room.
After moving back four spots and acquiring an extra 2019 first-round pick, Gutekunst drafted Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander 18th overall.
The uber-confident ball hawk quickly morphed into one of the Packers’ top defensive playmakers. Starting 11 of 13 games, Alexander had 66 tackles, a team-high 11 passes defensed and an interception in 760 defensive snaps.
Perhaps his most impressive play – an over-the-shoulder interception against Minnesota in Week 2 – was wiped out by an egregious roughing-the-passer penalty on Clay Matthews.
Alexander’s play drew rave reviews league-wide. Prior to the Packers’ Week 9 matchup with eventual Super Bowl LIII champion New England, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he believes Alexander “will be one of the top corners in the game for quite a while.”
NFL pundits concurred. After the season, Alexander became the first Packers player to be selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team since center Corey Linsley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were honored in 2014.
Despite losing Bashaud Breeland (Kansas City) in free agency, the Packers feel they have several young cornerback prospects to be excited about beyond Alexander.
Former second-round pick Kevin King has looked the part of a shutdown cornerback, though shoulder and groin injuries have cost him 17 games through his first two NFL seasons.
After taking Alexander in the first round last spring, the Packers doubled down and drafted Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson in the second. Rotating inside and outside, the 6-foot, 196-pound cornerback had 49 tackles and 10 passes defensed in 16 games (10 starts).
Undrafted speedster Tony Brown also emerged after starting the year on the practice squad. One of the top recruits in the country when he committed to Alabama in 2014, Brown shook off a few early special-teams penalties to make three late-season starts at cornerback.
Veteran Tramon Williams also appears to be moving back to cornerback after finishing 2018 at safety. The former Pro Bowler returned to Green Bay last March and proceeded to lead Mike Pettine’s defense with 1,059 snaps.
A pair of in-season additions, Will Redmond and Natrell Jamerson, round out the Packers’ offseason roster of corners.
The Packers began 2018 with Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice starting at safety and Jermaine Whitehead playing a hybrid position, but all three were off the active roster by midseason.
Brice was placed on injured reserve, Whitehead was released and Clinton-Dix was dealt to Washington for a 2019 fourth-round pick. Two other safeties, undrafted rookie Raven Greene and veteran Ibraheim Campbell, also finished the year on IR.
Clinton-Dix’s departure led to Williams playing the second half of the year at free safety, with Josh Jones starting the final month of the season next to the 13-year vet.
Green Bay made a splash early in free agency when it signed Adrian Amos away from the Chicago Bears. Amos started all 16 games last year, posting a career-high 73 tackles, nine passes defensed and two interceptions.
With Williams sliding back to cornerback, Jones and Greene will contend for the other starting post. A second-round pick in 2017, Jones has 126 tackles and three sacks in 29 career games.
Greene was one of three undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ 53-man roster last year. The former James Madison standout had five tackles, a sack and forced fumble in eight games before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury.
Green Bay brings back two other safeties, Jason Thompson and Tray Matthews, who finished last year on its practice squad.
The Packers could again be in the market for secondary help in this year’s draft. They’ve taken at least one cornerback in seven of their last eight drafts, including five in the first two rounds since 2015.
Green Bay hasn’t explored the draft nearly as often at the safety position. The Packers have drafted only two safeties – Clinton-Dix (2014 first round) and Jones (2017 second) – in the opening two rounds since selecting three-time All-Pro Nick Collins in 2005.
This year’s draft doesn’t contain as many top-tier defensive back as last year’s class that saw Denzel Ward (Cleveland), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Miami), Derwin James (Los Angeles Chargers) and Alexander come off the board inside the first 20 picks, but it still features several intriguing prospects.
LSU’s Greedy Williams and Washington’s Byron Jones are considered by most the top cornerbacks in this year’s class, while Delaware’s Nasir Adderley has everything teams desire in a ball-hawking safety in addition to the fact he’s a cousin of Packers Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley.