Packers’ first pick aimed at solidifying defensive secondary

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Arizona State’s Damarious Randall can play cornerback or safety in scheme
Damarious Randall isn’t a ‘tweener or a project. He’s a player.
When the Packers selected the Arizona State “safety” Thursday night with the 30th pick in the first round of the NFL draft, the choice seemed to come out of left field. In fact, it came out of center field, where Randall roamed before a shoulder injury forced him out of baseball.
In hindsight, so much of what NFL scouts have said about Randall is quite flattering. Excellent speed (4.41 in the 40), explosiveness (a 38-inch vertical leap) and above-average ball skills were repeatedly cited.
A few mock drafts even had him being drafted in the mid-20s. But when it came time for some of the media’s draft “experts” to fill out their mock drafts, Randall was largely lost in the shuffle. He didn’t have prototypical safety size (5-11, 196) or much experience at cornerback. As a result he got a bit overlooked by some.
That’s the difference between media gurus and NFL GM’s such as the Packers’ Ted Thompson. The media is filling out mock drafts. Thompson is filling out an NFL roster. If the Packers selected a player the media predicted then it was a good draft. End of story. For Thompson, and especially for Randall, that is just the beginning. Time will reveal whether this was a wise choice or a reach.
The reality is this: Thompson and his scouts believed in and coveted Randall. So rather than agreeing to trade down when teams came with low-ball offers, the Packers pulled the trigger and got their guy. They trusted their board.
Randall was highly productive in college, and his Wonderlic score of 18 suggests he has the capacity to grasp the complexities of an NFL scheme. Furthermore, it’s impressive that he didn’t quit sports altogether after a shoulder injury ended his baseball aspirations. Instead, he changed direction, turned to football and developed into a first-round draft pick. It’s even more impressive that he went from playing baseball to football, rather than the other way around. It suggests genuine mental and physical toughness.
Many liken Randall to the 49ers’ Jimmie Ward, the former Northern Illinois safety, which is a flattering comparison. Another comparison could be made to former Packers cornerback Doug Evans, whom ex-Packers GM Ron Wolf selected out of Louisiana Tech with the 141st pick in the 1993 draft. Evans, 6-1, 188, lined up as a hybrid linebacker/safety in college. Wolf was one of the few NFL GMs who accurately projected Evans to be an NFL-caliber cornerback. Remember, in 1993 there wasn’t the proliferation of draft news that exists today. To find Evans at Louisiana Tech, and to accurately project him as an NFL corner is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a reason Wolf is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it’s because of draft picks such as Evans.
Wolf was right, of course, and Evans was a key cog in the Packers’ 1996 Super Bowl XXXI championship team. He routinely drew the opponent’s best receiver and he won a lot more battles than he lost. Louisiana Tech played him inside as a linebacker/safety in order to utilize his speed to make plays and cover for teammates’ mistakes.
Evans, as unselfish a player as any I’ve met in 25 years of covering the Packers, had no problem lining up where he was told. He did what the coaches asked, rather than complain about it affecting his draft status.
Randall’s story is similar in that his coaches at ASU lined him up wherever he could be best-utilized for the good of the team. Randall, for those who might be wondering, is “Packer people.” It’s not because he’s a choir boy. It’s because he has a passion for football. It’s what matters to him, and it’s what he’s all about 24/7, 365.
Now, the Packers must find an inside linebacker such as Miami’s Denzel Perryman, an edge pass rusher such as Virginia’s Eli Harold, and perhaps a play-making tight end such as Minnesota’s Maxx Williams or perhaps Michigan’s Devin Funchess. Wherever Thompson decides to go, rest assured it will be an incredibly considered, thorough and well-investigated choice.
If Thompson had an alter-ego his name would be Due Diligence. It’s how Wolf unearthed a Super Bowl-winning cornerback from Shreveport, La., and it’s why Thompson had no reservations about drafting Randall.
Was he the best available player? Who cares? What matters is that Thompson stuck to his guns, didn’t get suckered into being low-balled in a trade down, and got a player his scouts endorsed. Now it’s up to Randall and the coaching staff.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.