Green Bay Packers Unit Grades, Part VII: Cornerbacks
The Green Bay Packers began the year with the best three-man cornerback rotation in the NFL: Charles Woodson, Al Harris, and Tramon Williams. Woodson and Harris were Pro Bowl players in 2008, and Williams had already shown he could fill in as a starter when Harris was injured during that season.
Behind them was a cavalcade of players that had anything from potential to basic skills adequate to be dimebacks in the league: Will Blackmon, Brandon Underwood, and Pat Lee.
Unfortunately, two of them combined to play under three full games. Worse, the other one was not adequate to play the nickelback position, as became necessary when the Al Harris also went down halfway into the season.
See the following links to companion pieces grading other defensive backs and the secondary as a whole; here are the grades for the six players who saw action strictly as cornerbacks.
Charles Woodson: A (66 tackles, eight assists, 2.0 sacks, 27 passes defensed, nine interceptions, three touchdowns, two fumbles forced)
Woody earned Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, and he deserved it. When the Packers needed a big play on defense, he was there—in the playoff game, with the Cardinals driving to put the game away, Woody forced the fumble that got the Packers back into the game.
He was third on the team in tackles—29th in the league and seventh among cornerbacks; his tackling is one reason he has been used at safety in packages. He was tied for best in the league for corners in sacks and second in fumbles forced. And of course, he tied for the league lead in interceptions and touchdowns, while finishing fifth in the league in passes defensed.
That being said, his play did leave some room for improvement. He gave up a lot of yards to Larry Fitzgerald in the playoff game, and even though Fitz is a monster and was allowed some liberties, he needed to perform better. He even gave up plays to lesser wide receivers like Chicago's Devin Aromashodu.
The final verdict: Darelle Revis is the best cover corner in the league, but the most versatile and biggest play corner is Charles Woodson.
Tramon Williams: B+ (46 tackles, nine assists, 1.0 sacks, 19 passes defensed, four interceptions)
Williams played very well in relief of the injured Al Harris, but it was nothing new: He had received plenty of playing time in nickel and dime packages that are actually used more than half the time by NFL offenses and was more than adequate in starting several games in 2008.
What did earn him high marks was his performance being good enough to finish in the top-20 in the NFL in passes defensed and tied for 23rd in picks. This would be good enough for most full-time second cornerbacks, much less one who held that spot for just seven full games. (He officially started ten games because the Packers opened a couple games early in the season against spread formations).
Al Harris: B- (29 tackles, five assists, 1.0 sacks, seven passes defensed, two interceptions, one fumble recovered)
True, Harris only played about eight and a half games, and considering all the time Williams got in spread packages before Harris' injury, he should have had better stats. But the difference is start enough—over a third-again the tackles, twice the picks and almost three times the passes defensed—to suggest the Packers should have been starting Williams over Harris from the start.
Of course, without tracking every play this cannot be quantified unequivocally: Harris was likely tested less frequently and may realistically have had almost as good a ratio in completions yielded per throw his way. One also cannot look at the overall success of the defense to compare him and Williams since the troubles came mainly against spread formations when Williams' substitutes were on the field.
What can certainly be said is that Harris was a very solid second corner, and good enough to make it into the B range.
Brandon Underwood: D+ (eight tackles, three assists)
As a sixth-round pick in 2009, Underwood was not expected to play much. However, he was expected to be a special teams contributor and was not.
Moreover, he was given a chance as the team's dimeback for almost half a season, his lack of production does stick out. Had he been even a little better, the team might not have had to use Jarret Bush.
Will Blackmon: D- (one tackle)
Blackmon missed the first game of the season and was hurt in the fourth, so there is not much to grade him on. I loathe giving a player a bad grade for getting hurt, but the team really needed him to be on the field—it may not be a lack of responsibility that caused it, but he did let them down. Also, given he was the team's dimeback for a couple full games, having merely one tackle in insufficient.
Jarret Bush: F (25 tackles, three assists, seven passes defensed, one interception)
Bush has been a dismal failure in his entire stay with the Packers. He has athletic ability and is often in position to make a play but cannot. Why he has remained on the team is a mystery to many Packers fans, who have been told that his versatility is a factor as he can play corner, safety, and on special teams. Problem is, he is bad at all three.
As one can see by the above stats, Bush is not without production. However, his limitations were best outlined in the game against Pittsburgh, when every pass thrown his way was completed; he had to be replaced in the slot by Josh Bell, who did not even start the season on an active NFL roster.
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