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Pre-draft picture: Big addition to Packers' secondary sets stage for more

Re-signings at cornerback keep depth intact

S Xavier McKinney
S Xavier McKinney

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2024 NFL Draft. The series continues with the defensive backs.

GREEN BAY – One of the biggest moves the Packers made this offseason was for the secondary, adding safety Xavier McKinney in the opening hours of free agency.

But there's more work to be done with this group.

That's because after McKinney, there's no clear-cut choice for a second starting safety, so a candidate could be targeted high in the draft. Meanwhile at cornerback, even with bringing back Keisean Nixon to play the slot and Corey Ballentine for depth, "never enough" still applies to the position.

At 6-foot, 201 pounds, McKinney comes to the Packers as a proven tackler and playmaker in the back end, missing just seven tackles while racking up a career-high 116 last season, and having intercepted nine passes over four seasons with the Giants. He also was a team captain for New York, so the Packers feel they have the whole package with him as their No. 1 safety.

Competing with anyone who's drafted (or signed later in free agency) is a young crop – one draft pick and three undrafted players – with limited playing time.

Anthony Johnson Jr. (6-0, 205) was a seventh-rounder from Iowa State last year who started four games in a pinch, recording 23 tackles and an interception. Zayne Anderson (6-2, 206), acquired on waivers from Buffalo right before the regular season began, played in 10 games, mostly on special teams. Benny Sapp III (5-11, 200) spent most of his undrafted rookie season on the practice squad and saw action in five games. And Tyler Coyle (6-1, 209) was signed to Green Bay's practice squad in Week 18 last season after two years with the Cowboys on both their practice squad an active roster, appearing in three games.

At corner, the Packers are hoping Jaire Alexander (5-10, 196) has put injury issues, which have heavily impacted two of his last three seasons, behind him. He played in just seven games last year and failed to pick off a pass after snagging a career-high five interceptions in 2022, when he was named to his second Pro Bowl.

Injuries have been a hindrance to Eric Stokes (6-0, 194) as well, as the former first-round pick was delayed last year in his comeback from foot and knee injuries that ended his 2022 season around the midway mark. Then when Stokes did return, multiple hamstring issues surfaced, so he spent time this offseason with receiver Christian Watson visiting specialists at the University of Wisconsin to find answers for getting his health back on track.

Carrington Valentine (6-0, 189) played much more than expected last year for a seventh-round rookie, starting 12 games plus both playoff contests and proving he belongs. He posted 42 tackles and nine passes defensed, displaying a never-back-down attitude no matter his matchup, and he will push to remain in the starting lineup in 2024.

As mentioned, Nixon (5-10, 200) was brought back to play the nickel after a solid full season there in which he led the Green Bay secondary with 79 tackles while intercepting Patrick Mahomes in a big win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Nixon added a sack of Dallas QB Dak Prescott in the playoffs.

Ballentine (5-11, 196) also returns after holding his own in six spot starts due to injuries, as he transitioned from primarily a special-teams regular to a steady presence on defense. He'll be in line to contribute in both areas when called upon.

Like Ballentine, Robert Rochell (6-0, 193) played elsewhere before joining the Packers and carved out a role on special teams in nine appearances last season. Two additional developmental prospects, both undrafted with previous stints with the Giants, are Zyon Gilbert (6-0, 193), who joined Green Bay's practice squad last October, and Gemon Green (6-1, 183), signed earlier this month.

Pre-Draft Roster Series:

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