Even Randall was surprised by Packers' pick

Ryan Wood
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When the night began, Damarious Randall's agent made sure he kept an open mind. It's the NFL draft, he reminded Randall. There was no telling what might happen.

Randall was ready for anything. Or so he thought.

There was no way the Arizona State safety could've anticipated what came a few hours after. Late Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers selected Randall with the 30th overall pick in the first round. This was a surprise to almost everyone – fans, media alike.

Even Randall.

Asked if he ever thought NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would announce his name as the newest Packers player, Randall was blunt.

"Honestly," he said, "I didn't think so. My agent was just telling me everybody is a possibility. It's the NFL draft, anything can happen. So I just went in, watching it with my family, and just hoping for the best."

Once again, Packers general manager Ted Thompson held his cards close to the vest.

Randall said he had minimal contact with the Packers over the past few months. He spent "a lot of time" with the team at the NFL combine in February, but there were plenty of interviews with other teams. His conversation with a Packers position coach was so memorable, Randall couldn't recall the coach's name Thursday.

This was an inventive, outside-the-box – and impressively stealthy – way for Thompson to add depth to the Packers' cornerback position. The GM filled one of his teams' two biggest needs, with a pick on an inside linebacker likely coming Friday.

"The more you go back and look," Thompson said, "he's a good football player. We were talking amongst our scouts today, you have so long to sit around in angst about everything. You have a tendency, if you're not careful, you start worrying about things. And I'm adamant that's the wrong thing to do. Never worry about stuff.

"So we looked back at it and said, 'At the end of the day, if we get just a good football player, it doesn't matter where we have to take him. If we have to take a guy higher than you want to take him, it doesn't matter.' We just wanted a football player. In this case, we took a good football player in our opinion, and we took him at a place where it was very reasonable in terms of cost.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Randall is the top cover safety in the draft. He was one of six safeties targeted at least 60 times by an opposing quarterback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. His 53.2 completion percentage allowed was lowest in the group.

Randall, named first team all-Pac 12 last season, tied for third in the conference with three interceptions and tied for seventh with 12 passes defended. He also was second among Pac-12 defensive backs with 106 tackles and third with 9.5 tackles for loss.

On film, his ability to make plays all over the field was the first thing that struck McShay.

"You watch No. 3," McShay said, "he's flying around the field. He plays full speed all the time, really good play instincts and production. … He's the best man-to-man cover safety and has the best cover skills of all the safeties. I just don't know that he's going to last all that long.

"I know he's undersized, but in a league where you're looking for guys that can cover, I think Randall is probably going to end up coming off the board pretty early."

McShay thought Randall could be drafted in the middle of Friday's second round. Instead, the Packers took him with three picks left Thursday night.

Don't mind Randall's "safety" designation. When he arrived at Arizona State two years ago following a year at Mesa Community College, Randall said he expected to play cornerback. His coaches had a different idea.

To maximize Randall's ability to "fly around the field," he was moved to safety.

Randall lined up at free safety on 60.5 percent of his snaps last season, but he played slot corner 26.5 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He played safety inside the box on 12.5 percent of his snaps.

Only two snaps came at perimeter cornerback.

"Even when I was at safety, I was playing a lot of zero coverage (single man-to-man)," Randall said. "Because Arizona State blitzes a lot, I was in a lot of zero coverages."

Through the pre-draft process, Randall said teams' opinions were split on where he would fit best on the field. About 12 teams told Randall he'd play cornerback if they drafted him, he said. About seven or eight slotted him as a safety.

Doing his homework, Thompson said, Sun Devils coaches told the Packers GM that Randall would've been their best cornerback. After watching the film, he believed them.

But Thompson didn't commit to playing Randall as a perimeter cornerback, where the Packers have their greatest need in the secondary.

"We'll see about that," Thompson said.

Randall might have been surprised the Packers picked him, but Thompson said he hoped Thursday night would end the way it did.

Randall had been their target for "some time," he said. The defensive back entered Thursday night "pretty high up" the Packers' draft board.

"I think he's a football player," Thompson said, the ultimate compliment coming from a personnel evaluator. "I think he's got really good ball skills. He's got kind of a knack for catching the ball.

"I think he's one of those kind of guys, if you're choosing up a team in little league, he probably got picked first all the time."

Randall's path to Green Bay was surprising for more reasons than the Packers' limited contact with him.

He comes from a baseball family. One brother, Patrick Norris, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 16th round of the 2007 amateur draft. Another brother, Porter Washington, played two seasons in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system. His father, Victor Randall, still plays in a men's league.

There was a time Randall thought he was destined for the diamond, too. Out of high school, he played two seasons as a short stop and center fielder for Butler Community College. After a right shoulder injury, his athletic career came to a crossroads.

Instead of rehabbing and returning to baseball, he transferred to Mesa. He said football was always his passion, his first love. On Thursday night, Randall was glad he picked it up again.

"If I didn't hurt my shoulder," he said, "where am I today? I really couldn't tell you. I really don't even know.

"It was an amazing feeling hearing my name get called, and just Green Bay and the coaching staff believing in me. It was just a very exciting moment for me and my family." and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.

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