While general manager Brian Gutekunst re-signed free agent Kevin King and tendered restricted free agent Chandon Sullivan, the Green Bay Packers enter this draft with a pronounced need at cornerback.
King has played only 52 percent of the defensive snaps in his four seasons. After a strong 2019 season, King regressed in 2020. But at least he played. Josh Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, and Ka’dar Hollman, a sixth-round pick in 2019, weren’t even on the gameday roster in the playoffs. Taking a longer-range view, King will be a free agent again next offseason, as will Jackson and Sullivan. Those factors make getting a cornerback or two a priority in this draft.
Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. is our No. 5-ranked cornerback.
Get to Know Asante Samuel Jr.
Asante Samuel was a fourth-round pick and the 120th overall selection in 2003.
Who knows if Asante Samuel Jr. will surpass his father’s 51 career interceptions, but there’s absolutely no doubt about one thing: Junior will be picked perhaps 90 or even 100 spots before Senior.
Samuel Jr. is a superb blend of athleticism (4.38 in the 40) and ball skills (four interceptions, 33 passes defensed in 32 career games at Florida State). He had one interception and 15 passes defensed in 12 games in 2019 and three interceptions and nine passes defensed in eight games in 2020.
“Man coverage is a dog mentality,” Samuel said at FSU’s pro day. ‘It's like, you versus me, and you're not going to win your rep against me, because I'm a dog and I've been working hard all year for it. You're not going to outwork me for the week, so I feel like that leads into the game. FSU really brought out the man coverage in me, because we played it a lot. Especially last year, I felt that the scheme was really good and I was able to showcase my talent.”
The concern is Samuel’s size – or lack of it. He’s not tall – though, at 5-foot-10 1/8, that’s good enough for the Packers, who haven’t drafted a cornerback shorter than 5-foot-10 in the 16 drafts conducted by Ted Thompson and now Brian Gutekunst. He’s not long, either, with 30 1/8-inch arms.
“I’ll never be the biggest, or even the fastest guy on the field, and I know that,” Samuel told Yahoo! after opting out of the remainder of the 2020 season. “I know my technique has to be great all the time. Playing with leverage. I see undersized cornerbacks playing against big receivers and they win because they play with technique.
“I am never going to make my [lack of] size a reason to fail. A lot of people out there are way smaller than me.”
Can Samuel be an every-down cornerback or is he destined to be “only” a slot defender? Considering the third corner plays about 80 percent of the snaps, there’s nothing limiting about having a slot-only designation. For what it’s worth, Alexander is an eighth-inch taller but his arms are an inch longer.
“Of course, I feel that I'm an outside guy,” Samuel said at pro day. “I've been playing outside all my life. I played nickel my freshman year but, at the end of the day, I make my plays on the outside. I feel that I'm a dominant corner on the outside. They try to look at my height and things of that nature, but I'm the same size as Jaire Alexander, and he's a dominant NFL cornerback right now – one of the best in the league. I feel like size doesn't matter; it's about the heart and the dog mentality you have on that field.”
At pro day, it was clear Samuel had grown tired of the questions about his father. After all, he’s been hearing them for years. Regardless of the name on the back of his jersey, Samuel is a high-quality player who has earned his place as a first-round prospect.
“It drives me,” Samuel told USA Today High School Sports when he was a junior in 2017. “(Critics) always say, ‘Your dad this and that, you got your offers because of your dad.’ I’ve been hearing it for so long that I’ve gotten used to it. I laugh about it. But it motivates me. I have to show them why I’m the best in the country.”
Measureables, Stats and Scouting Report
Measureables: 5-foot-10 1/8, 180 pounds, 30 1/8-inch arms. 4.38 40, 4.09 shuttle, 35-inch vertical.
Stats and accolades: Twenty of Samuel’s 23 starts came during his final two seasons. He had one interception and 15 passes defensed in 2019 and three interceptions, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble in eight games in 2020. According to Sports Info Solutions, he allowed a 52 percent catch rate but just one touchdown. He missed five tackles (13 percent). Samuel played 32 percent from the slot in 2019 but 13 percent in 2020. He was excellent in those limited opportunities, ranking fourth in the draft class with 2.9 yards allowed per zone-coverage snap.
NFL Draft Bible says: Like his Pro Bowl father of the same name, Samuel has some notable ball skills on the back end. As a sophomore in 2019, he collected one interception while breaking up an additional 14 passes. In 2020, he took his game to a whole other level, recording three interceptions and breaking up another six passes in only eight games. With elite short-area quickness, Samuel is able to click and close with the best. He can line up in multiple spots on the outside and inside. Samuel also possesses an adequate amount of long speed to stay in phase while working vertically. Unlike his father, Junior is a willing run defender who shows solid effort in that area. Samuel is a fun watch and a nice defensive back prospect. Samuel will never be mistaken for the longest corner in the world. For some, he might be better served playing inside on a more exclusive basis with the ability to match up against quicker slot receivers.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft.