On a Green Bay Packers team with a lot of question marks coming into the season, the cornerback position was thought to be a position of strength. However, not even halfway through the season, it is now a major unknown.
Ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, the Packers traded away Rasul Douglas to the Buffalo Bills. Along with being one of the defensive starters and a leader, Douglas was the Packers’ most dependable cornerback this season and always had really strong ball production during his time in Green Bay.
Of course, the Packers still have Jaire Alexander, but he has been battling a nagging back injury. Alexander has missed three of the Packers’ last five games and, frankly, didn’t quite look like himself against Minnesota.
Keisean Nixon will continue to hold down the slot, but in Douglas’ place on the boundary, Carrington Valentine will likely be in line to get the start over at least the next three games. At a minimum, that is how much time Eric Stokes still has to miss on IR. Last week, Matt LaFleur did sound hopeful that we would see Stokes again this season, but a timeline is unknown.
Valentine was one of Green Bay’s training camp standouts but has taken his lumps during the regular season. During his limited playing time, Valentine has been targeted 13 times, allowing eight completions at nearly 18 yards per catch with no pass breakups, according to PFF.
The Packers’ depth at the position consists of Corey Ballentine, who was signed off the practice squad last week, and Robert Rochell, who was plucked off the Carolina practice squad last week as well. Ballentine has played 502 career snaps over four seasons, with just 97 coming in the last two. Rochell, meanwhile, has 260 career snaps in three NFL seasons, with 233 of them coming in 2021. Either player is now one play away from being a starter.
“We’ve got some guys down, especially at the corner position,” said Joe Barry before the game against Minnesota, “but like we talk about all the time, we got no time other than the next man step up, and whether that’s Valentine or Ballentine, or whoever that is, they’re going to get an opportunity to go play, and when their number is called, when they get an op to make a play, they’ve got to make a play.”
Without Douglas, there no longer is the question of where Stokes will fit in when he returns. Green Bay also has the opportunity to get Valentine some additional valuable in-game reps as a rookie with Stokes sidelined, which will hopefully help expedite his learning curve. They also picked up another top-100 pick for next year’s draft, giving them five in total.
However, the cornerback position, and the defense as a whole, is worse off without Douglas. Green Bay currently ranks 30th in takeaways this season, with just six in total. This is an area where LaFleur has recently said the defense has to improve in order to help the offense, but admittedly, that could become more difficult to accomplish with the team’s leader in interceptions and pass breakups since 2021 now playing elsewhere.
The Packers pass rush – outside of Rashan Gary – has been wildly inconsistent this season. This unit is now going to have to have a bigger impact moving forward in an effort to provide the secondary with some additional assistance. Pressuring the quarterback will get him off his spot and force him to rush through his progressions, which oftentimes can lead to a mistake. However, a failure to create steady pressure will force this Packers’ cornerback group to cover for longer than what they might be capable of.
With the Packers at 2-5 and nowhere near ready to compete, Brian Gutekunst took the opportunity to sell high on a veteran player who was only under contract for one more season. Life can come at you fast in the NFL, and the Packers have experienced that this season in a variety of ways, with cornerback now being added to that list. Green Bay went from having the luxury of quality depth at one of the game’s most important positions to now it being a decent-sized question mark, just like so many other aspects of this team.