Packers see Damarious Randall as playmaker
This was another typical Ted Thompson first-round pick.
Thompson's choice of Damarious Randall at No. 30 overall in Thursday night's NFL draft was a pick of conviction – the Packers see Randall as a cornerback, though other NFL teams might no agree. And it was a pick of a player with a clean background. No Randy Gregory here.
Whether it's a good pick, there's no way to know at this point. But the Packers badly need playmaking on defense, and at minimum Thompson must think Randall has a chance to be a playmaker. Because with all the Packers' needs on defense, the GM had options at other positions, and if he didn't like those options he could have traded down.
"There wasn't much conversation when it got to be our pick," Thompson said of the Packers' draft room, meaning he wanted this player.
That Randall can play cornerback wasn't obvious in the lead up to the draft, at least according to information available in the public sphere. I texted a scout from one team immediately after the pick who compared him to Jimmie Ward, the safety/cornerback San Francisco picked at the same No. 30 spot last year. Ward played safety for the 49ers last season.
But Randall also might have been one of those players who slips in a little under the radar. In his teleconference with reporters in Green Bay after the selection, Randall estimated that about 12 teams talked to him about playing cornerback, whereas only seven or eight talked about safety.
There's nothing about Randall's physical traits that suggests he can't play corner in the NFL. His height of 5-feet-10 7/8 is just above the 5-10 ½ minimum the Packers have set at defensive back going to back to when Ron Wolf was GM. His 40 time of 4.42 seconds isn't blazing but is fast enough for the position – according to research by Tony Villiotti of National Football Post that puts Randall in the top 30 percent of all cornerbacks who worked out at the NFL scouting combine from 1999 through 2013. Same for his 38 inch vertical jump.
The Packers don't need Randall to play a big role immediately because they have Sam Shields and Casey Hayward as their top cornerbacks, and Micah Hyde as their nickel. But the Packers like Randall's combination of speed and ball skills, and have to be thinking at minimum he should push for a spot among their top three at cornerback this year.
Though Randall played mostly in the slot as a cover man in college, it's hard to see the Packers making this pick unless they're convinced he can play outside as well. They already have two players (Hyde and Hayward) whose best position is the slot (nickel), so adding a third would be overkill. Randall's best chance to get on the field this season might be outside, where Hayward is the presumptive starter after Tramon Williams' departure in free agency.
Thompson had plenty of other defensive players he could have picked when his turn came up, with perhaps the most interesting being Gregory, the Nebraska outside linebacker/defensive end who tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine. Gregory was a potential top-10 type talent as a pass rusher heading into the offseason but as teams dug deeper into his life after the positive test, they obviously saw big potential problems, because he didn't get picked in the first round.
Last week I asked scouts from two teams about Gregory. A high-ranking executive from one called him "a train wreck waiting to happen." The other said he was on his team's board as a first-round player but hoped that somebody else would take him because he wasn't sold on Gregory as a player anyway.
"There are two or three snaps a game where (Gregory) looks like a top 10 player," the second scout said, "and you're like, he gets it, he's leveraging, backside he's chasing, he's making plays. And then there's six or seven plays in a row where he's getting blocked or widened by a tight end, and you're like, 'What is this dude's problem?'
"I want to say that the pass rushing side of him is outstanding, because he can get the corner, he can capture it, sharpen the edge, all that stuff. But he just doesn't do it all the time. I think he's one of those guys, I'm sitting there hoping someone drafts him before he gets to us."
Gregory's stock clearly was falling in the weeks leading up to the draft, so the Packers knew there was a chance he'd still be on the board. The possibility of putting Gregory, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers on the field together had to give them pause in their draft meetings the last couple weeks, when these decisions are made. But Thompson obviously concluded that Gregory wasn't worth risking a high pick, which is consistent with his history of drafting for the Packers.
Among the other defensive players still on the board when No. 30 came up were defensive linemen Malcom Brown of Texas, Carl Davis of Iowa and Eddie Goldman of Florida State; inside linebackers Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State, Eric Kendricks of UCLA, Denzel Perryman of Miami; and Stephone Anthony of Clemson; and cornerback Eric Rowe of Utah.
But Randall was Thompson's choice. As Thompson went through his reasons for taking Randall, he repeatedly went back to Randall's ability to play the ball. He also twice mentioned Randall's junior-college career as a centerfielder in baseball, which ended because of a shoulder injury.
"It's space, awareness, understanding angles and sort of thing," Thompson said of the similarities between playing defensive back and centerfield.
So now Thompson has drafted at one of his two greatest needs, cornerback. The best guess is he'll look for the other, inside linebacker, in Friday's second and third rounds.
The only player drafted at that position Thursday night was Anthony. So McKinney, Kendricks and Perryman remain on the board, as is TCU's Paul Dawson. The question is whether Thompson will have to trade up from No. 62 overall to get one of them, and if he's willing to do it.
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