GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three years ago, the Green Bay Packers drafted cornerbacks with their first- and second-round picks. The first-round pick, Damarious Randall, flopped and was traded last month to the Browns. The second-round pick, Quinten Rollins, still has a shot to factor into the rotation.
Nearly 20 years ago, they used their first three picks on cornerbacks. Much like the 2015 draft, it was the last of the cornerbacks taken who made it. Third-round pick Mike McKenzie turned into a standout -- before his contract holdout led to his exit -- while first-round pick Antuan Edwards moved to safety and made minimal impact and second-rounder Fred Vinson was traded to the Seahawks in the Ahman Green deal.
In between, the Packers also picked cornerbacks with their first two picks of the 2005 draft -- Ahmad Carroll in the first round and Joey Thomas in the third -- and neither panned out. They were better known for a meeting-room brawl than anything they did on the field.
Here are the Packers, who opened their rookie camp Friday, with a draft class that features cornerbacks both in the first and second round. The idea here isn’t to put a damper on expectations for Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, the 18th overall pick, but rather to remember that pick No. 45, Iowa’s Josh Jackson, might have just as good a chance to become a star -- or even an immediate starter -- as Alexander.
“I think those are two totally different situations,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said when asked about the similarities to the 2015 draft. “The two corners that we picked, we’re really, really high on and their upside. They’re very good college players, they’re very good athletes. So I don’t really want to compare the two, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that was a disappointment either. We still have one good player from that draft, and we expect big things from Quinten, and the previous player that was here is a talented player. So, rosters evolve and this was a chance for us to kind of really beef up our secondary, and we think we did that.”
Some mock drafts even predicted the Packers would take Jackson in the first round. But he was there for Gutekunst in the second, and after the Redskins traded up to No. 44 and took receiver Dante Pettis, the first-year GM decided to double up at cornerback.
“We were pretty surprised that Josh lasted as long as he did,” Gutekunst said shortly after the pick. “You’re playing through all the scenarios as we started to get close to our pick and you had a certain number of players [ranked] ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ‘D.’ And we really liked Pettis from Washington, but our ‘A’ was there, so we went with it.”
The biggest question with Jackson is whether 2017 was a fluke or the start of something special. It was his only season as a college starter, but he led the nation with eight interceptions -- including three against Ohio State and two (both returned for touchdowns) against Wisconsin. Jackson’s ball skills might be rooted in his history as a receiver -- he caught nine touchdown passes as a high school senior.
He turned pro with only 14 starts to his credit and with a year of eligibility left.
“If you're familiar with Iowa football, that's how they do it there,” Packers college scout Alonzo Dotson said. “They breed those guys up through the ranks, and they do it the right way as far as who is going to play, and he's no different. There were two NFL guys [Desmond King of the Chargers and Greg Mabin of the 49ers] prior to him, so he earned his way. And when he did, he did a great job."
At just over 6 feet tall, Jackson has the height edge on Alexander (5-foot-10¼) but not the speed. He ran a surprisingly slow 4.56-second 40-yard dash at the combine, whereas Alexander ran it in 4.38 seconds.
“They both are excellent ball hawks,” Gutekunst said. “They find the ball, not only coming forward but with their back to the ball. Certainly one is a taller, longer player; one is probably going to be more twitchy and explosive. I think they both have the versatility outside and in the nickel. They’ve done it in college; it’s not something we’re projecting, but it’s something that they’ve done. There’s some similarities. When they stand next to each other, you’re not going to see them, but I think from their play style and their play technique there are some similarities.”
The Packers might need an immediate starter in the nickel package, assuming last year’s top pick Kevin King and veteran free agent Tramon Williams start at the two outside positions. However, it’s possible new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could use Williams inside as a way to mask his age if there’s a significant decline in speed.
Mel Kiper Jr. declared the Packers as one of the Day 2 winners in the draft, largely because of the Jackson pick. He called Jackson “the best player on the board” at No. 45 and added that Alexander and Jackson are “two solid players to pair with second-year stud Kevin King.”
“I got drafted now, so really, my main focus is to come here, work hard and try to earn everything I work for,” Jackson said. “That's the main thing I'm worried about. The round I was drafted doesn't matter. Wherever I'm drafted, I'm happy, and it's a great opportunity. So I just want to come here and show what I'm worth. I know I can play ball. That's the main goal for me.”