The Green Bay Packers could be looking for an impressive rookie to replace Kevin King as their No. 2 cornerback next season, having already logged a meeting with at least one of 2021’s potential early-round talents.
According to Justin Melo of The Draft Network, Florida State star cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. recently had a virtual meeting with the Packers over Zoom along with a handful of other cornerback-needy teams, including the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks.
Samuel, son of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, was a consistent two-year starter and defensive leader for the Seminoles who tallied 97 tackles, 29 passes defended and four interceptions in 31 career games. He is also coming off a three-pick junior season in which, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a lower passer rating in coverage (46.2) than any other cornerback in the 2021 draft class.
Most prominent draft analysts project Samuel to go in the second or third rounds of April’s draft, but a few mocks have considered him a Day 1 selection — making him a possible candidate for the Packers’ No. 29 overall pick if he continues to impress throughout the pre-draft process.
Samuel is the first cornerback reported to have met virtually with the Packers and the third 2021 defensive prospect to be linked to them overall. The other two are North Carolina State defensive tackle Alim McNeill and Notre Dame edge rusher Daelin Hayes, as Melo previously disclosed.
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Cornerback Among Packers’ Top Needs
The Packers will almost certainly be bidding farewell to King next week when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Between the injuries that have cost him 23 games in his first four seasons and his regressive performances in the 2020 season, there just simply isn’t much justification for them to pay King a second contract when they could look elsewhere to find a new (and better) No. 2 to pair with All-Pro Jaire Alexander.
The trouble with letting King walk, though, is the gamble the Packers take with finding his replacement. Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman and KeiVarae Russell are their only in-house options and hardly make for strong candidates. Jackson has the most experience with several decent spot starts for King in 2020, but both he and Hollman were healthy inactives down the stretch of the regular season and in the postseason after failing to impress on defense or special teams.
The Packers will also have to determine whether Chandon Sullivan, who struggled in his first full season as their primary slot corner, is serviceable for the future with him. He is due to become a restricted free agent this offseason, but the team’s overall needs at the position make him more likely than King to get a shot at redemption next season.
Securing another starting cornerback won’t be easy with the Packers facing some cap difficulties in 2021. The Packers still have to clear about $21 million in cap space before the new league year begins on March 17, and that is just to get them financially healthy. They will also have to clear additional money to sign draft picks and internal free agents, making it unlikely they will have the resources left over to pursue a starter-quality free agent.
The 2021 draft is likely the better route for the Packers with 10 picks (counting three compensatory) available for them to nab cornerback talent. They traded up in 2018’s opening round and landed a lockdown star in Alexander. Perhaps general manager Brian Gutekunst will see if lightning can strike twice in the first round.