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Whitt May Hold Keys to Packers 2017 Kingdom

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Whitt May Hold Keys to Packers 2017 Kingdom

Over the course of the past half decade or so, perhaps no position coach outside of former QB coaches have created the buzz that CB coach Joe Whitt has in Green Bay.  Whitt is consistently mentioned among the best cornerbacks coaches in all of football.  He is given partial credit for a number of things, most notably Charles Woodson's defensive POY season and the developments of Davon House, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams (not to mention the lucrative extensions he helped them sign).  

Perhaps the most impressive part is the lack of resources Whitt has been given while coaching up one of the premier positions in today's pass happy NFL.  Williams and Shields (both Pro Bowlers under his watch) were undrafted.  Woodson was an unwanted castoff (admittedly Woodson is a HOF talent, and clearly the best player Whitt worked with).  House was the 131st selection.  Whitt was able to mold these talents in to an effective group over and over again.  

Then came 2015.  Ted Thompson bucked his own trend.  He spent the 30th and 62nd pick of the draft on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins and assigned both players (both guys were not strictly being scouted as cornerbacks) to Whitt's group.  Thompson had preferred to take larger players in round one.  Of his first and second round picks from 2009 to 2014 eight of Thompson's thirteen selections were either front seven defenders or offensive linemen.

Thompson's new strategy played immediate dividends.  Despite the shortcomings of Aaron Rodgers and the offense during the 2015 season without Jordy Nelson, the pass defense was pretty good.  They finished 9th in Football Outsider's pass defense DVOA.  Green Bay's three rookie cornerbacks (Whitt got underrated, lengthy LaDarius Gunter as an undrafted free agent as well) performed admirably.  Randall, Rollins and Gunter scored 69.4, 80.5, and 71.2 respectively on Pro Football Focus' film-based grading system.

2016 was a rude awakening.  The cornerback group lost their leader in Sam Shields.  Whitt was unable to salvage the wreckage.  Those PFF numbers dropped to 39.2, 48.6 and 58.1.  Green Bay's corners ranked 84th, 97th and 108th of 111 qualified players.  It was abysmal.

So what happened?  Did Whitt forget how to coach?  Were the Packers cornerbacks injured as many have intimated?  Were they never any good to begin with?

We're going to have to find out.  From a personnel standpoint, 2017's Packers offense will rival 2014 as the offense that has a chance reach 2011's heights.  Martellus Bennett and Jordy Nelson are stars.  Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb have the ability to be that as well.  Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers, Jamaal Williams and the rest of Green Bay's rushing and pass catching options are depth that are exciting enough.  The Packers will score.

Will they be able to stop other teams from scoring?  The Packers are finally good up front and up the middle.  Ryan, Burnett and Clinton-Dix are good enough.  So are Matthews, Perry, Clark, RJF and Daniels.  It's all good enough, except the corners. 

The million dollar question, after Green Bay has now signed Davon House and used three top 62 picks on cornerbacks in the last three drafts.  Does Whitt have anything to work with?

I've often said you learn something by associating with people smarter than you on the subject (for me that's a lot of people), so I got in touch with Jim Cobern of @Jimetrics and the CommonManFootball YouTube channel.  I spoke to him about the analytics behind his content.

The two statistical analyses he uses for cornerbacks are solo tackle market share and pass deflection market share.  The athletic scores are speed (40 time measured against mass density, weight divided by height), explosiveness (vertical and broad jump against same parameters) and flexibility (short shuttle and three cone, same parameters).  The two production scores posed against the three athleticism scores should show us the ceiling of a player.

To show what we're trying to achieve, let's start by establishing the minimum thresholds for starters, pro bowlers, and all pro players:

  Starter Threshold Pro Bowl Threshold All Pro Threshold
Solo Tackle Market Share 18.01 34.87 61.90
Pass Deflection Score 8.04 77.18 77.18
Explosiveness Score 15.02 38.50 76.02
Speed Score 3.08 61.99 88.26
Flexibility Score 27.36 61.19 76.41

Let's get into it, player by player (this may get a bit dry).

Davon House- 96.95 Solo Tackle MS, 84.67 Pass Deflection, 79.53 Speed and 94.20 Flexibility score all meet the All Pro threshold.  The 23.19 Explosiveness Score meet only the starter threshold.

Damarious Randall- 96.73 Solo Tackle MS, 84.67 Pass Deflection, and 87.33 Flexibility Score all meet the All Pro threshold.  The 63.41 explosiveness score and the 79.37 speed score both meet the Pro Bowl threshold.

Quinten Rollins- 91.44 Solo Tackle MS, 97.83 Pass Deflection Score(crazy elite production scores), and 85.70 explosiveness score all meet the All Pro threshold.  The 55.77 Speed Score and 53.47 Flexibility Score meet only the starter threshold.

Kevin King- these numbers are not dry.  These numbers are frankly insane.  We'll work backwards here.  King's 56.40 solo tackle market share and 73.05 speed meets the Pro Bowl threshold.  The rest, 96.65 Pass Deflection, 82.51 Explosiveness, and 98.86 Flexibility all exceed the All Pro threshold.

LaDarius Gunter- 63.78 Pass Deflection Score, 40.26 Solo Tackle Market Share Score, 26.09 Explosiveness score, 15.68 Speed Score meet the starter thresholds.  His 18.86 flexibility score does not.

Josh Hawkins- his 90.14 Explosiveness score and his 87.14 Speed Score meet the All Pro threshold, his 58.96 flexibility score, 17.81 Pass Deflection Score and 27.48 Solo Tackle Market Share score meet only the starter threshold.  

So what does this all mean?  The thresholds are by their very definition, minimums.  To be negative, LaDarius Gunter's flexibility score would indicate that he is not flexible enough to meet the minimum requirement of a capable starter.  In fact, of the entire group, only Gunter's flexibility score is completely disqualifying.

To be positive it means that both Kevin King and Damarious Randall have the potential from an athleticism and production standpoint to be Pro Bowl caliber players.  King would be a better tackler and faster than the worst tackling and slowest Pro Bowl level player since 1999.  Randall would be more explosive and faster than the least explosive and slowest Pro Bowl level player since 1999.  

Not only that but it appears Green Bay has capable starters in Rollins, Hawkins, and House that possess elite traits.  Not all of your players are going to be Pro Bowlers.  The problem was that there are 96 starting cornerbacks in the NFL if you consider three cornerback sets a base defense (and you should, it's 2017).  If you strictly believe PFF's CB rankings, Green Bay's best corner was an awful 3rd corner, and their second and third corners were OK fourth corners.  Even if you think PFF is meaningless trash, the film isn't good.  The numbers aren't good either.

It at least appears that Whitt has the tools to work with.  Randall has always shown special ball skills.  His issue in 2016 was getting beat, and often deep.  Gunter's problem is not fixable.  He's slow, not particularly explosive and inflexible.  You have to game plan around Gunter's weaknesses.

Pre draft evaluators thought (and after two seasons of tape I agree) that Rollins' best position might be at free safety.  His elite production and explosiveness indicate a good safety, while his average speed and flexibility rob him of the ability to be a great corner.  You can see that when you watch him play.  With that said, he did have the highest PFF grade of the three 2015 corners in both their rookie and sophomore seasons.  

Green Bay also has two different types of corners on the roster.  They have three outside cover corners in King, House and Gunter, and they have three chess piece corners in Randall, Rolins and Hawkins.  I would not play any of the outside corners inside, ever, and I would not play Rollins outside if I didn't have to.  He's too short to be as slow as he is.

With all that said, Jim's analytics would tell you that Whitt has five players who are at least capable of being starters and one player (Gunter) who has shown on film that he can be a worthwhile player in a sub package.  He also has two players capable of being stars.  

I'm not saying Whitt is overrated.  He's not.  What I am saying is that the 2017 season is likely going to hinge on his ability to get the cornerback group over the loss of Sam Shields and back to respectability.  Can he coax the Davante Adams-like third season comeback jumps out of Randall and Rollins (or just move Rollins to free)?  Can he go from taking C- talent and producing B production to taking B talent and producing A production?  

The Packers would kill for C production in 2017.  If they could get three corners to finish in the top 70 of the league it would be a monumental jump from the trash they put on film in 2016.  That jump from horrid to average could mean a very serious improvement from a defense that finished 20th in defensive DVOA in 2016.  The group (largely with the same personnel) finished 9th in 2015.  If Green Bay can scrape together a top 10 defense (it really doesn't have to be top 3 or 5), they'll be one of the favorites to come out of the NFC (I know a lot of people will say Atlanta, but teams never recover from losing the Super Bowl, and that is the least likely Super Bowl to recover from......ever).

It's time for Whitt and his group to step up.  He has done it before.  The "what" if is tantalizing.  What if Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall played all of 2016 on injuries they shouldn't have been playing on.  What if instead of playing average (which again, would be a HUGE improvement) , they play well?  What if Kevin King is star?  What if Davon House is a serviceable starter? 

What if the weakest part of the 2016 Packers is a strength in 2017?

I see you, Joe.

The analytical data provided in this piece was from @Jimetrics, you can check out his blog here, and his YouTube channel right here.  I would look forward to a podcast appearance from James soon.  

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (38) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

Joe is a good coach. CB just had rotten luck last year. You just don't recover from an All-Pro CB1 being out from game 1 on. The entire depth chart had to be bumped up as a result, and that didn't bode well. Plus, Randall and Rollins had sustained stretches of really good play in 2015. Last year, IMO it looked like they both got hurt, and then the both got lost in their own heads. Gunter can be a good 4th CB - which isn't bad for a UDFA.

Add in King and JJ, and this pass defense can be (and I'd expect will be) very, very good by year's end. Maybe even elite. We'll see.

IMO this will be the best Packer D since 2010 (not that this is saying much). It's not without questions - what I'm more concerned about is the pass rush. Even the very best coverage units break down if the opposing QB is given 6 seconds a play.... I do think we really could use another veteran OLB, and am pretty upset that TT didn't go after Barwin. Dumerville might really help if he's healthy enough to play (TT should have jumped on him in 2011 when he was a FA), but I don't expect that to happen, because Ted gonna Ted.

marpag1's picture

I like your optimism about the pass defense, Bearmeat, but the words "very, very good" and "elite" weren't on my radar. frankly I'll be satisfied with "average" pass defense next season... And realistically, an average passing defense last year might have been enough to put the Packers over the top.

Bearmeat's picture

Maybe it would have. But RE: your point "average" - look back at the last 6 years of pass defense. Post 2011, it's actually been the better half of the unit. (Again, this is not saying much).

I'd expect 2016 was the outlier and 2017 will rebound.

Censored's picture

I am also excited about our defense. I think our defense could be great or even elite, it just depends on Dom Capers. With all the pieces we have, all the different packages we can deploy. He will have zero excuses.

Christopher Gennaro's picture

Love the optimism, and I believe we finally have what pegs Dom needs to play his defense. For me with the state of the Lbs, and the picks and free agents on d-line, if I see 2-4-5 even half the game, I will lose it. I understand the need for lbs, but for me the strength now lies in the d-line and secondary, so use it.

Somedumbname's picture

That is true, IF we are stopping the run. Against a team like Dallas, I could see us using 3 down lineman more often. The better your down lineman, the less of a liability they are. Especially if they can rush the passers effectively.

hodge555's picture

A lot of "What If's" but I confess I'm optimistic for them in 2017. Plus I don't think it's really possible for them to be any worse than they were in 2016.

BPEARSON21's picture

Great article!

It's nice having all these stats laid out instead of the generic "I think Rollins and Randall will be better" articles.

Seems like the common theme is we need a true #1 to build around, which we had in 2015 in Sam Shields. If we had a true #1 I would feel so much better because we could hide Rollins and Randall and give time to Kevin King to develop without the pressure of being the #1 right away.

It's just too bad we don't have a true #1 this year so we'll just have to wait until we do (gosh please don't anyone try to tell me Davon House is a number 1 in this league just don't even go down that road).

This is what I've been saying all off season, we did SOME to bolster the secondary but we didn't do enough. Same group, likely the same result as last year.

dobber's picture

"Same group, likely the same result as last year."

But by your own admission, this ISN'T the same group as a year ago. I agree, House is not a #1 CB, but for 2/3 of last season we would've killed to have a House in the lineup to put up against #1 WR. King is an unknown, but he brings greater length and athleticism, and the chance to win matchups just based on that. At least now, there's health and improved experience/athleticism on the side of this group.

We all seemed to be convinced that it couldn't get any worse than last year...aside from another crippling rash of injuries, I have a hard time seeing how it could even be as bad.

Ross Uglem's picture

so the same corners have to play like they did in 2016, they can't revert to 2015 or even improve on 2015, it has to be 2016 again because...... why?

BPEARSON21's picture

Just going by the stats my friend. BUT this is an opinion based fan page and if you prefer to formulate your opinions without facts you're more than welcome to.

Ross Uglem's picture

right but you're dismissing 2015 as something that didn't happen. You're not really using all the facts, just select facts, in fact the facts that support your argument only. I'm guessing you used a lot of the same facts to discuss Davante Adams after his second season.....

BPEARSON21's picture

Very true, I can't deny that. I think we are closer on this than you think. If we had a true #1 (like I've mentioned) I would happily revert back to the 2015 stats. But as I keep mentioning, I can't use 2015 stats because we missing such a key component, a true #1 corner.

I credit a lot of the 2015 success to having a true #1 corner. The reason I think the 2016 stats are more telling for this year is because we have the same group as last year with the exception of an "okay" veteran and some rookies.

P.S little disclaimer on all my defensive takes, I obviously hope I'm dead wrong. Nothing would bring me more happiness than Randall turning into Richard Sherman

BPEARSON21's picture

I thought I touched on that already, the answer to your "why" question is based off what the article says about the need for a true #1 corner to help Rollins and Randall. Remember in 2015 when we had Sam Shields and Randall/Rollins could focus on the slot or 3/4 receivers not the #1?

Last year Gunter was our #1 after Randall was demoted (not just injured if you remember). Injuries certainly played a big role IMO in our secondary defiencies but the lack of a true #1 was more damaging. The CB's we have aren't #1 guys.

So answer your "why" question is simple, we still don't have a #1. Unless you think Davon House is a #1 in the NFL or Kevin King (who hasn't played a snap yet) is an NFL #1.

Will it be better than last year...? Maybe. But how much better...? Maybe we will dip into the 26-28 in passing defense as opposed to 31st. I guess if that's your standard for a "good secondary" then we are on different pages.

Ross Uglem's picture

That's only if you really believe that that was the issue, which the film does not support and frankly doesn't make sense conceptually.

You're exactly right. LaDarius Gunter, more often than not, was tasked with the #1 receiver. Randall and Rollins were still getting beat by the same secondary options that weren't beating them in 2015.

Gunter/Shields...... existence I guess, isn't going to help them get beat or not get beat on the complete opposite side of the field, in fact I'm guessing it actually works against your point. If Gunter was so god awful you'd think that would have resulted in more targets for Rollins and Randall, as opposed to somehow helping them.

Had the issue been at safety I could understand that. Safeties actually help corners.

The idea of a #1 corner is very much overrated, and House and King may not be "#1" corners but it all helps. You have to have the athletes to run your scheme and they have to be healthy.

It's not a great point and it doesn't actually make sense.

Beyond that, my standard for a good secondary is the 9th ranked pass defense the Packers had with basically the same players in 2015. Sam Shields is an OK player but you're making him out to be Deion Sanders.

BPEARSON21's picture

I just disagree. I understand your point and I think it's valid I really do. But I look at the numbers that are posted in the screen shot of the QBR against our CB's last season and my diagnosis of that is players who are still developing and need a solid #1 corner back to help them out.

It just all comes down to how you want to read those numbers. Do you want to blame injury? Do you want to call it a fluke? Or do you want to believe that it's real? I personally think those numbers might be slightly inflated due to injury but I also believe in them a lot as well. But again that's just my opinion.

dobber's picture

I look at it this way...the Packers might not have a #1 CB this season, but they have a series of guys who could be #2 CBs (and King will hopefully become a #1 with experience). Maybe this means that the Julio's of the world will still torch this defense, but the Diggs, Thelens, and (Marvin) Jones of the world likely will not. If the secondary matures into a group containing 2-3 #2 CBs, they're ahead of many teams out there.

They still need a pass rush to make it hold up...

PatrickGB's picture

I would like to say something about this site. Its the best GBP site on the web! Hands Down! The writers are all top notch (except for a couple of minor writing errors). The writers here have provided me with excellent GBP coverage. It has become my "go to site" for GBP news and analysis.
Now as to the article, I think we will see an improvement this year from our secondary once we are no longer having to rely on Gunter to cover the #1 WR. And I agree the loss of Shields and the injuries to R&R were the primary reason of the catastrophic drop off in our coverage in the secondary. Also, I hope we get away from the soft zone coverage.

Handsback's picture

The R twins have a lot of ability. A rookie that's lights out better athletically than any corner the Packers have had since and maybe including Woodson. A proven CB in House and last but not least a pretty good coach. It adds up to potentially a solid if not spectacular defensive backfield.
Here's the major concern, the same as every year......injuries. The R twins went from being solid to bad last year. Either they played out of their minds as rookies, or they couldn't stay healthy. I chose the latter. There's a part of me that keeps looking at the defensive roster and seeing the improvement in the Dline, ILBs (another year of promising rookies getting stronger and smarter) OLB that will be solid and major improvement in the DBs.
I must be crazy, but I see a top 10 defense!

Worztik's picture

I'm anxious to see the "final product" after training camp and the preseason games. I believe that our corners are really tired of hearing how bad they were last year, etc., etc.!!! I have a feeling they are going to come to camp with logs on their shoulders daring anyone to knock them off! I can't wait... just sayin'...

croatpackfan's picture

I'm with you!

PatrickGB's picture

I agree that there is some ability in the secondary. Top 10? Nah, but if even top 15 would be a marked improvement over last year. With health and House and King at CB and Jones closer to the line I see us playing man more often. Last years soft zone coverage was painful to watch.

dobber's picture

" Last years soft zone coverage was painful to watch."

I would like to know how many snaps they played in zone down the stretch a year ago. It certainly seemed like a lot, and nobody seems to be focusing on that as part of the issue.

Ross Uglem's picture

They didn't have any corners left capable of playing man. That's your m answer. They did the same thing in the second half of SBXLV

Since '61's picture

This article confirms what many of us have commented in previous CB articles. King and House should start on the outside with Randall in the slot and Rollins for the dime and for depth. Keep Hawkins as our #5 and chuck Gunther. We might also find a better #5 among this year's crop of UDFAs. Either way if this group stays healthy we should see at least some improvement from last season's miserable performance by the CB group. If Joe Whitt can get them to average or even close to average he will have done a solid job. Thanks, Since '61

Finwiz's picture

Hawkins > than Gunter on potential alone, because of one thing you can't teach....SPEED.

croatpackfan's picture

You can't teach height, too...

marpag1's picture

I have no problem if people are high on Hawkins, but whenever people talk him up I always think the same thing: Dude played EIGHT snaps from scrimmage last year. Which of those eight should convince me that he's the real deal?

Gunter is certainly no world beater, but I think he'd be pretty tolerable as a nickle guy, and I'd be plenty comfortable with him as a fourth or fifth corner. I don't know why I should be confident with Hawkins.

CJ Bauckham's picture

I'd take Gunther over Hawkins. But as you also mentioned, my money's on our number 5 being one of this year's udfas

L's picture

I hope Hawkins takes a big step this year. He's got some really nice potential.

croatpackfan's picture

Ross thank you for article in which you show that Randall and Rollins are not busts (better to say, last season they played poor because of injuries, not because lack of talent).
That is all I will say about this issue.

Lphill's picture

I would not call Joe Whitt a great coach just yet, he had a decent football pedigree but did he re invent Charles Woodson or was Woodson more motivated playing on a contender . Let's see what Whitt does with King and Jones and also if he gets Randall and Rollins back on track.

PackEyedOptimist's picture

A reminder Lphill: Tramon Williams and Sam Shields were UNDRAFTED players that Joe turned into Pro-Bowl players. He absolutely has earned the "great" descriptor.

PackEyedOptimist's picture

We have every reason to believe that our defense will have a LOT of players who will improve from last year (due to more experience or not being injured) as well as a bunch of talented new players: K Clark, D Lowry, R Jean-Francois, M Adams, B Price; J Ryan, B Martinez, C Heiman, K Fackrell, V Biegl; K King, D Randall, Q Rollins, H House, J Hawkins, H Waters, D Rivers, L Pipkins; K Brice, J Jones.
That's a HUGE supply of "better" to last year's squad.

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

I fully expect this crew to be much improved over last year. I also expect them to give up a bunch of yards as the teams we are playing will be passing a lot. They will be playing catch up all game long.

This is why I want a turnover oriented secondary. They can give up a billion yards if they get timely TO's, and a lot of them. Every interception will be a 14 point swing because this offense may very well score every time they touch the ball.

PatrickGB's picture

Doug , I think that our reloaded offense will be more than potent. So yes, with teams playing catch up our secondary will be tested. I heard good things about Witt. However, it is Capers who calls the defensive game plan. I wonder if injuries to the secondary caused Capers to call that game plan. It looked like we were playing "Prevent Defense" for way to long. Perhaps this year will be different. If not I may just join the "Fire Capers" crowd. But I hope not because I like the disguised blitz defense. It works best when the secondary can cover close man.

Samson's picture

GB should be better in the secondary but there are no guarantees. -- No way I'll put hope in rookies or a castoff from the Jags. --- A couple of FA vets (not named House) would have increased the chances of improvement, --- Now we'll see if TT really has a plan (or is he as inept as he appears). -- The clock is ticking.

freddisch's picture

You can do all types of analysis to make it look like you have talented CBs, but my eyeballs told me last year that Randall and Rollins are not very good

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