We still don’t know for certain who will be the Green Bay Packers slot CB in 2020. But after the draft, Gutekunst mentioned four players that could fill the role.
Although he is past his prime, at this point in his career we saw Tramon Williams have a very good 2019 season with the Green Bay Packers as their primary slot corner.
On 63 targets, Williams would allow a completion percentage of 63 percent with two touchdowns while coming away with two interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks would also have a passer rating of only 86.5 when targeting him according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
However, it’s now mid-May and Williams still remains unsigned and the slot corner role is still up for grabs in Green Bay. At this point, it appears that the Packers are going to see how training camp plays out with their current cornerback unit before deciding whether or not to bring Williams back.
As far as current players on the roster who could fill this role, after the draft GM Brian Gutekunst mentioned that there are four players in particular that he could see taking over for Williams as the primary nickel corner. Which is an important position in the Mike Pettine defense given how often they play with five or six defensive backs on the field.
The players that Gutey mentioned included Jaire Alexander, Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson, and even safety Darnell Savage. Here is a quick look at what each player would bring to the position and whether or not it makes much sense.
In order for Alexander to begin taking more snaps from the slot, the Green Bay Packers would need someone else to step up and take over outside duties alongside of Kevin King. Alexander has shown that he is a versatile player, with good instincts and athleticism, so I imagine this would be a fairly smooth transition for him despite only playing 76 snaps from the slot all last season.
However, finding cornerbacks who can work on an island outside is not an easy task and it looks like the Packers have that with Alexander. My guess is that ideally, Green Bay wants to keep Alexander on the perimeter and have one of these other three players take over in the slot instead.
It’s been a rough two years for Josh Jackson. He would take his lumps during his rookie season with penalties being a major issue and then in 2019 an injury early in training camp would result in him falling down the depth chart. He then rarely saw the field and when he did, it wasn’t pretty.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has stated that Jackson will be at this best in the NFL as a slot corner. However, at this point that remains to be seen. After coming from a zone heavy scheme at Iowa, Jackson still has to prove that he can handle man coverage responsibilities.
This may have been a bit of a surprise but in Gutey’s conversation with reporters, he did mention Darnell Savage as an option out of the slot. At Maryland Savage was a playmaking chess piece for the Terrapins, lining up deep, down in the box, as well as in the slot where he came away with three interceptions.
With Savage’s speed and nose for the football, having him closer to the line of scrimmage certainly isn’t a bad thing. But given his versatility, I would rather see Savage roaming around this defense rather than locking him into one specific position. Playing Savage in the slot would also mean that Pettine would have to be confident in Raven Greene as a deep option.
A nice surprise for the Green Bay Packers in 2019 was the emergence of Chandon Sullivan over the course of the season. Of his 378 coverage snaps last season, 148 came from the slot according to Pro Football Focus. Overall he would allow a completion percentage of 42 percent on 36 targets with no touchdowns, no penalties, one interception, and a passer rating of 43.1.
At this stage of the game, my guess is that Sullivan is the clubhouse leader to take over as the primary slot corner in 2020. Jackson still remains an unknown and I think there is more value in keeping Alexander and Savage where they currently are.
However, as good as Sullivan was last year, he still needs to prove that he can do it for a full 16 game season and as a starter with a much higher snap count.