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Being Ted Thompson: Cornerbacks and Safeties

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Being Ted Thompson: Cornerbacks and Safeties

Finally, we've gotten to the defensive portion of this series. The Green Bay Packers may not have a bigger need on the defensive side of the ball than defensive back, so this is a perfect place to start.

Between the retirement of Sam Shields, the sophomore slump of Damarious Randall and the loss of Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Casey Hayward and Davon House, who has since re-signed after a two-year stint in Jacksonville, the Packers have not had much stability at the cornerback position. To understand why, you need to keep in mind of Green Bay's scheme.

Under Dom Capers, the Packers, like most LeBeau-zone blitz teams, have one of the most complicated back ends in football. Because of that, it's incorrect to assume that a defensive back can be a plug and play piece. With that in mind, that's likely why Green Bay doesn't invest much at the top of the draft in cornerbacks. Pittsburgh, another LeBeau-style defense, has struggled with cornerback depth for years, too. LeBeau now is the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, where fans are asking for cornerback talent in the draft. Think of the names we just listed. Shields and Williams weren't draft picks at all. Woodson was a free agent. Hayward was a slipping Day 2 selection. House was a Day 3 pick.

Look at the cornerbacks that Green Bay has invested in recently. Randall played baseball, junior college ball and safety at Arizona State. Quinten Rollins played basketball until his last year at Miami of Ohio. Shields was a receiver at Miami. Demetri Goodson also played basketball in college, at Gonzaga, before transferring to Baylor to play football. Herb Waters, who was moved up to the active roster late in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, was a former Miami receiver, too.

In this defense, rookies generally can't make immediate impacts, with the major exception being Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety, who played under Nick Saban, who is right up there with Mike Zimmer and Pete Carroll as far as generational defensive back coaches go. They take years to develop, but Green Bay doesn't put a premium on re-signing these talents, either. (Ex: all of those defensive backs walking.)

The one exception there was Shields, who since entering the league up until his concussion last year, was second in the NFL in interceptions over that time. Capers' defense is built off of sacks and turnovers, with the idea of “bend don't break” being thrown out the window. There's a reason why basketball players, receivers and baseball players, who you'd think have “ball skills,” end up being the guys Ted Thompson and co. go up to bat for. The idea of not valuing cornerbacks can be broken down to the general manager, too. The only cornerback with more interceptions than Shields since he entered the league up until last year? Richard Sherman, whose general manager once was in Green Bay under Thompson and is now trying to move his contract.

To truly understand why Green Bay is so strict at defensive back, you need to have these ideas embedded in your philosophy:

•                     quarterback rating throwing to a cornerback's side doesn't matter, only turnovers

•                     young players aren't going to be ready to play early, so you might as well swing for athletes

•                     the team values the position less than a majority of the NFL in terms of non-rookie contracts

 

In short, the cornerbacks coach in Green Bay, Joe Whitt, has one of the hardest jobs in the sport just by the nature of how the scheme and front office function, not including the current state of talent at the position.

Since 2010, after Capers' first season as the defensive coordinator in Green Bay, the Packers have drafted nine defensive backs. Here are the characters you're going to need to know:

•                     2014 first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

•                     2015 first-round pick Damarious Randall

•                     2012 second-round pick Casey Hayward

•                     2015 second-round pick Quinten Rollins

•                     2010 third-round pick Morgan Burnett

•                     2011 fourth-round pick Davon House

•                     2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian

•                     2013 fifth-round pick Micah Hyde

•                     2014 sixth-round pick Demetri Goodson

 

Of those nine defensive backs, seven of them were at least an eighth-inch of 5'11”, ran at least a 4.57-second 40-yard dash and recorded at least a 6.87-second three-cone time. Essentially, they like longer defensive backs with hips that test well and filter out defensive backs with limiting 40 times. For example, here are the 2010-2016 defensive backs who were drafted in the first round who hit all of the numbers listed above:

•                     2011 fifth overall pick Patrick Peterson

•                     2010 fifth overall pick Eric Berry

•                     2012 10th overall pick Stephon Gilmore

•                     2015 16th overall pick Kevin Johnson

•                     2013 22nd overall pick Desmond Trufant

•                     2016 24th overall pick William Jackson III

•                     2015 27th overall pick Byron Jones

•                     2012 29th overall pick Harrison Smith

•                     2015 30th overall pick Damarious Randall

•                     2014 31st overall pick Bradley Roby

•                     2010 32nd overall pick Patrick Robinson

 

Other than Robinson and Randall, there is no buyer's remorse from any of the other teams who drafted those defensive backs. This seems to be a fairly efficient model, for at least cornerbacks.

Here are the rarity numbers for these defensive backs:

•                     first round 2010-2016: 11 of 43 defensive backs (26 percent) were “Thompson defensive backs”

•                     second round 2010-2016: 4 of 31 defensive backs (11 percent) were “Thompson defensive backs”

•                     third round 2010-2016: 13 of 50 defensive backs (26 percent) were “Thompson defensive backs”

•                     fourth round 2010-2016: 11 of 53 defensive backs (21 percent) were “Thompson defensive backs”

 

In the first four rounds of the last seven drafts, the Packers have drafted five “Thompson defensive backs” in Randall, Hayward, Burnett, House and McMillian. The rest of the 31 NFL franchises drafted 1.06 of those defensive backs over the same period. Green Bay is targeting these defenders at five-times the rate of the rest of the league. That's significant.

The exceptions to this rule were:

•                     Clinton-Dix who as mentioned before was coming out of an advanced system in Alabama that allowed him to be a plug and play free safety. As we mentioned in the drafting of Eddie Lacy in the running back tendencies piece, team need does seem to play a part in the Packers' draft tendencies, as well as with tight end Richard Rodgers, and a desperate Green Bay defense in need of a developed safety couldn't have had a better talent to fall to them than Clinton-Dix in their situation.

•                     Rollins. I have no idea what to do with him. He was mocked in the first round during portions of the draft cycle, but his poor testing numbers knocked him for most online evaluators. Maybe Green Bay just graded his talent to the point that they were willing to overlook his numbers like Lacy and Randall Cobb. Green Bay often fills one hole with two plugs, and the Packers knew they were going to need a starting cornerback in 2017. They swung at Randall and Rollins a year early. That's the only explanation I can think of.

This is what all of this digging means for this draft season. Here is the NFL Draft Scout/CBS board of cornerbacks who qualify as Thompson cornerbacks (blue) or at least are on track to me (yellow):

 

 

In the last seven years, there have been 15 defensive backs who passed through the “Thompson defensive back” threshold in the first two rounds. That's just over two a class. At the cornerback position alone, there are six cornerbacks with at least “first-round/second-round” grades on NFL Draft Scout/CBS Sports, and that's without Marshon Lattimore running his three-cone time. That does to tell you how deep this cornerback class is.

Here's what you're going to want to know about the top guys:

•                     Lattimore is going to be gone by the time the Packers are selecting in the first round, but his teammate Gareon Conley is the second-best cornerback in this class. Alabama and Ohio State play the most press, which translates well to the NFL, so there's no reason to be shocked why they have two of the top five cornerbacks on this list. Conley reminds me a lot of Hayward and Bradley Roby.

•                     Marlon Humphrey of Alabama is being mocked anywhere from the top-10 to the second round at the moment. He doesn't flash much on film, but he's a 20-year-old with an athletic background, doesn't standout in a bad way (which is half the battle at cornerback) and did show off his speed as Alabama's premier punt gunner. He's a player you need to mold, but he checks every box.

•                     TreDavious White of LSU and Cameron Sutton of Tennessee are interesting because they both have the same career arch. They were both thought of highly coming out of their sophomore seasons, but had junior slumps, which led to them returning to school as seniors. They both bounced back, but Sutton's last year at Tennessee was cut short due to injury. In my opinion, no position is better suited for a bounce back than defensive back. Even at the NFL level, we see players go from being great, to having a snow-balling bad season, to being Pro Bowl again the next year.

I noted players with a 40-yard dash of over 4.5 seconds because those players tend to be slot or overhand defenders (third safety/strong safety) in Green Bay (Hayward, Burnett, McMillian, Hyde) than guys who you put on the perimeter (Randall, House, Goodson.)

Side note: Shields also hit these athletic measurements during his draft process.

Though I don't really think Green Bay is in the market for drafting a safety high in the draft, here are the players who check the box for the Packers at that position:

 

Previous articles in this series:

 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

al bundy's picture

The diff between ted and his counterparts is its all about money. Ted knows if he takes a lesser person it costs less. Big named talent big bucks.
Randall was not on anyones radar as being very good and his numbers showed that so why such a high pick. Because you can tell this person they were lucky they got drafted and they were back ups only so take less money.

vj_ostrowski's picture

...what?

dobber's picture

Al bein' Al.

MarkinMadison's picture

This is your brain on drugs...

Turophile's picture

Actually, al, Randall was exceptionally fast for a safety with loose hips etc. But, he was a bit fragile and lightweight for safety and not an especially good tackler.

Ted saw that his deficiencies (as a safety) were masked, if he became a CB. He was worth more to Ted (as a CB) than most others (as a safety). Mention of money in this, is meaningless.

DesertPackFan's picture

It didn't hurt that all of Randall's tape at ASU showed him playing press man coverage. ASU used him as a CB more than safety, by Randall's estimate he was in press man coverage 95% of the time. The majority of NFL teams were scouting him as a CB all along, not as a Safety.

stockholder's picture

I believe TT could take a safety high. Just like Randall, we may end up with another they move around. I won't be shocked if he does. It would be a good gm move. Bargaining chips have become a way of life with TT now. Adding a Safety may just help the secondary more than a cb. (Especially White) Development time should be the top priority. What draftee can start without delays.

croatpackfan's picture

I believe many of fans will eat their complaints towards Randall (& Rollins) during 2017 season.
I know that they are not and never be shut down corners, but with good pass rush we do not need one. We just need very good secondary and I think we will have it.
Saying this, I still believe Packers should draft CB early, the one who can become shut down corner for the future...

porupack's picture

Justis, I like your analytics. But couple things are unsettling.
1) If TT statistically picks CBs with those threshold traits, and those CBs have not exactly been shutdown corners, is this a set of threshold traits that should be continued?

2) If CB is as difficult to learn and perform at high level as you assert (and I agree with you this is probably true), then there should be a premium on retaining that vets in that position (more reason to keep Hayward). So if this theory is right, then make cap casualties elsewhere not CB.

3) If we want to judge TT's draft criteria traits (yes....we do), and judge if those lead to successful cb picks (our rights as fans), then I would like to know what are the draft criteria traits of another team with higher performing CBs. Seems some teams might have more exclusive traits than what TT uses (speed? height?).

4) I don't know.....something wrong about drafting so many basketball and baseball players, and other eccentricities. What is he experimenting with, and what is so compelling about his previous picks...that he would continue such unorthodox picking at CB?

I'd suggest a strategy rethink... and see if a few other criteria might net a pick that sticks.

Nick Perry's picture

When I read your comment the first time I agreed with # 1 & 3 completely, 100%. Then I reread it again and I found myself agreeing with the entire comment 110%.

Looking at Thompson's draft history at the position, you need to ask yourself WHY he continues to look for traits, it just hasn't yielded very good results. Bunnett has turned into a good safety and HHCD I think continues his rise up the ranks, but none of those picks were great cover corners, hell most have been downright awful in coverage.

Between 2005 and 2009 TT drafted another 9 DB's, (S & CB combined) and hit on exactly one, Nick Collins. So if you look at TT entire history drafting players for the secondary, Thompson seems to draft safeties pretty well but is downright terrible when it comes to picking a CB.

It also seems the "Draft & Develop" approach is tossed out the window when it comes to DB. Then again when you miss with just about every CB you've drafted, there's no reason to "Resign" those players. Of the players he's drafted he's only resigned Collins and Burnett. Throw in Shields and Williams that's 4 so far and barring any injury to HHCD that makes 5. Whatever 'Formula" Ted is using when it comes to picking the position, toss that crap out the window because it's not working!!!!!

dobber's picture

"Between 2005 and 2009 TT drafted another 9 DB's, (S & CB combined) and hit on exactly one, Nick Collins."

True, but during that time, he only picked two other DBs (out of that 9) in the first three rounds (Rouse and Lee). Two others were selected in the 4th round: Marviel Underwood who blew out his knee and never really played again, and Will Blackmon...who played, what, 4 years for the Packers and is still playing. Other than that, we're talking about 5th round players and above, which I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about.

Rouse was a true bust. Big HWS prospect at S who just logged a couple INTs but just wasn't very good. As I recall, he was regarded as a great value in round 3.

Handsback's picture

Good job again on the article!
In everyone's discussion point the one metric that's missing is other teams selection. We can look at TT's selection and say, "wow he should have done this or that" . We can probably do the same thing with other GMs.
The "R" twins career haven't even really started. I expect them to be much better this year, because if they show they can do it once....they can do it again. Whitt has shown he can do a lot with little.
Defenses are changing before our eyes. We have gone from ILBs that are 6-3 260# to 6-1 230-240#s. CBs are also changing from small quick guys to larger, and longer speed guys. Safeties from small linebackers to bigger CBs that can cover on an island. Now as I write this another position is being established in the NFL that has existed in colleges for years and that as "Roverback". A safety that can play in the box as a small LB.
When you see the offenses of today's NFL teams you are staring at some of the same concepts that college teams have been using for a few years. Then you have two teams that are throw backs to past NFL offenses in the Cowboys and Titans that pound you with a running game.
The drft is fun to see who you draft, but will also answer how your team will play in next year's season.

vj_ostrowski's picture

I'm a Ted guy, but DB is the one area where I just don't like what he tends to do there. Hoping this year changes that.

Then again, if you look around the league, CB is constantly a need for almost every team. Really good ones are hard to come by and you need at least 3

dobber's picture

My argument has been that CB is the hardest position to play in the NFL...harder than QB. The rules are stacked against you, the guys you need to cover are usually bigger and faster, and you are almost always in a reactionary posture. The mental make-up for a guy to be successful in that role must be nearly impossible to assess. You've got to throw a lot of darts to hit that target.

Colin_C's picture

I won't be surprised if TT takes a safety early on. Our depth is somewhat thin. If HaHa goes down, Brice takes his spot, but then who plays SS when Burnett moves into the box? I can see him taking a guy like Budda Baker or Adoree Jackson.

stockholder's picture

I'm still looking at Melifonwu just for the reasons you wrote. He's just got to much size and speed not to be in the first rd. So if you were TT would you take CONLEY OR Melifonwu. Remember that TT does not like to take guys at 5'10 , like budda for the secondary. But I believe the best thing TT could do for the defense is to forget the secondary. Draft Watt OLb, Willis Edge, Kapassagnon DE, Biegal LB . IT would rework the LBs for the next 5 years.

OrganLeroy's picture

That's a nice "wish list" but it's IMPOSSIBLE for Ted to get both Watt & Willis. Watt will be a 1st rounder and Willis is moving up fast and could be a 1st rounder but will most certainly be gone in the top 15 of the 2nd round.

stockholder's picture

Watt is almost a sure bet at @29. Unless someone is going to over-draft him and wants to keep him out of GB. Willis is suppose to be late 2nd early third. Like Melifonwu he did have a good senior bowl. He was good at the combine. But with several other edge guys like Harris , williams,Basham,lawson, etc. Willis should get near the packers 2nd rd. Willis was smaller school. So if TT wants him he should be able. I feel that @ 92 TT might get a shot at a True DE. T. Kpassagnon is the best prospect and might get in the 2nd. (Very raw but athletic) But you also could have Biegel to there. If TT takes Conley it wipes out getting a quality edge guy. And I have to put any others in the potential bust category if their not gone by #62. So if he doesn't get Watt, He better go secondary 1 +,2-, 3+ 4WR/rb.

DesertPackFan's picture

IMO there is just too much wrong w/ most of this series.

Regarding this article alone the Packers rarely play a zone blitz on plays much less often enough for it to be considered the scheme.

When Capers was hired, McCarthy made it clear he wanted man coverage scheme w/ some emphasis on press man.

Capers hasn't really used the zone blitz much at all. Best and last example I can remember being Raji dropping into zone coverage vs the bares in the NFCCG leading to our SB win in '10. Has anyone else seen a DL drop into zone coverage? That is the defining characteristic of the zone blitz scheme!

Packers are a man coverage team. They've used 4 picks in the top 2 Rds in the last 5 or so years, they signed Woodson as a FA. That's alot of capital put into the secondary, not including Burnett in rd 3 and House in Rd 4.

Capers, also at McCarthy's request, simplified his scheme significantly to allow rookies and young players to contribute early.

Making draft picks based on metrics such as these is NOT the Packers way. They watch film, lots of it and grade players on that film. They use the combine and pro day workout numbers more to support and then make decisions between similarly rated players. Better numbers and equal grade = edge in drafting over players in the position groups.

Appreciate the work you put into it, but most of it means little! You could just as easily take the worse numbers of any Packers draft pick at each position and just say the Packers won't draft a player w/ worse numbers and be done w/ it. Then you can go back and actually watch more film, which is what actually matters. Case in point, Rollins tape was outstanding even if his testing numbers weren't great. So the Packers took him based on his film and not his testing numbers!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I think this series has been great. I love the metrics, but I flatly disagree w many of the conclusions in this article, specifically:

A) "that's likely why Green Bay doesn't invest much at the top of the draft in cornerbacks."

GB would have used more draft capital on CBs except we've had tremendous CBs for a long time. In 2008 and '09, we had Woodson, Harris and Tramon as CBs, with Collins and Bigby/Peprah at safety. Harris was all-pro in 07 and 08, still good in 09. Collins was all pro in 08, 09, and 10. Woodson was all pro in 09, 11, pro bowler 08-11, and Def player of the year in 09. Tramon started 9 games in 08, had 5 INTS, 14 PDs, started 10 games in 2009 with 4 INTs, 14 PDs. By 2010, it is clear that Tramon is better than Harris, and we let the 35 yr old Harris walk after the 2009 season. 2010, starters are Woodson, Tramon, Collins and Peprah, with Shields being a sensation in preseason, and we still have Bigby, Bush, Pat Lee, and just drafted (traded up) in the 3rd CB/S Burnett. Thereafter, we trotted out Tramon and Shields. Even though CB looks stacked, TT used a 4th rounder on House in 2011, and a 2nd rounder on Hayward in 12 and a 5th on Hyde in 13. How much draft capital is a GM supposed to use given the abundance of talent at CB? So we went:

Woodson/Harris/Tramon (2009)
Woodson, Tramon, Shields (2010)
Tramon/Shields/Woodson (2011)
Tramon/Shields/House/Hayward (2012)
Tramon/Shields/House/Hayward/Hyde (2013)
Tramon/Shields/House/Hayward/Hyde (2014)
Shields/Randall/Hayward/Hyde/Rollins (2015)
Shields/Randall/Rollins/Hyde/Gunter (2016).

Pretty seamless until 2015, and the D was a bright spot that year. Once Hayward showed that he couldn't play boundary CB (in GB at least), he was allowed to walk. Looks to me like TT won't pay mid-tier money for the Hyde role, preferring to rely on young draft picks for the role. House was inconsistent, so he too was allowed to walk.

stockholder's picture

Well said. I would add that when the starters lost their closing speed. That it was all so simple, for TT to let them go. They will tell you it's in the hips,etc. But it's really the closing speed. So pick your future CB on speed.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

We've used 6 picks on CBs, 11 on LB (5 OLBs, 6 ILBs), 4 on NT/DT, 4 on S, and 9 on DEs (inc. 4 6th/7th rd fliers and a few busts). The CBs include a 1st, 2 2nds, and one 4th, 5th and 6th. Though there are 6 ILB picks, the highest are 2 4ths. I don't see where CB has been neglected. [As a note, TT picked 7 true OTs, 2 OGs, 2 OCs (if you include Tretter), 2 QBs, 2 FBs, 4 RBs (green and Franklin injuries though), 6 TEs (just one 3rd though, + 2 6ths and a 7th), and 8 WRs. That is 33 picks on offense, 34 on defense, since 2009.

A) "the Packers have not had much stability at the cornerback position."
B) "In this defense, rookies generally can't make immediate impacts...."
C) "Green Bay doesn't put a premium on re-signing these talents, either. (Ex: all of those defensive backs walking.)"

A is really a product of having talent in the pipeline for a long time. Why pay for an expensive 2nd contract if you have a cheap alternative on a rookie contract? House and Hayward were both close calls but got low starter money, so they walked.

B is just generally true when you draft late in each round. Hayward played 683 snaps as a rookie (63% of snaps); Hyde played 419 snaps (40%), Dix 941 (86%) [Goodson 0, 75 on STs], Randall 755 snaps (72%), and Rollins 323 (31%). How much do you have to play to have an "immediate impact?"

C: I can defend the decision to let every DB walk.

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