LaDarius Gunter surprised everyone by becoming the Green Bay Packers’ most reliable cornerback in 2016. Can he build on it this season?
Rising to the top of the Packers’ cornerback tree last year might not be seen by many as a major accomplishment. After all, Green Bay finished No. 31 against the pass and were blown away by Atlanta’s high-powered offense in the NFC Championship Game.
But in the midst of some woeful cornerback play, Gunter stepped up and became the most trusted corner on the team. Dom Capers handed him one-on-one duties against opponents’ top receivers, which speaks highly of the trust placed in him.
What can we expect from Gunter this year?
In 16 games, Gunter made 54 tackles, forced two fumbles and defended 12 passes.
Sam Shields‘ season-ending concussion in Week 1 proved to be a major blow for the Packers’ secondary, as did the regression of second-year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. It was another sophomore who was called upon. It wasn’t the Packers’ top two 2015 draft picks, instead an undrafted rookie from the same class: Gunter.
Just how much was asked of Gunter? Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel explained in his end-of-season grades.
"“Went to training camp as the No. 4 cornerback and ended camp as No. 4. He was No. 3 by Game 2, No. 2 by Game 4 and No. 1 from Game 5 on. An undrafted rookie in 2015, Gunter ended up playing 1,082 snaps (85.7%). He shadowed Julio Jones not once but twice, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr., among others”"
Gunter’s success began to fade as the season went on, but he was put in a difficult spot. He was responsible for covering Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones throughout the playoffs. Despite winning with effort and physicality throughout the year, Gunter’s lack of top speed hurt him against Jones in the title game.
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All in all it was a successful season for Gunter. It wasn’t a campaign destined for the Pro Bowl, but he overachieved and became one of the better cornerbacks on the team. As a No. 2 or No. 3 corner, he can shine.
Odds of making roster: 100 percent
Gunter’s play last year likely guarantees him a spot on the 53-man roster this year. With a chance to fine tune his game entering Year 3 in the NFL, Gunter can carve out a nice spot on the depth chart.
As long as Gunter isn’t being asked to mirror the league’s elite wide receivers on a regular basis, he’ll be a solid contributor going forward. The hope is Davon House and rookie Kevin King quickly adopt the starting jobs, with Randall and Rollins improving enough to take on sub-package roles.
Gunter will be in the mix, and he’s proven he’s talented enough to slow down premier wide receivers. As long as he’s not the Packers’ only option, Gunter will do just fine.
Check out our full interview with Vince Biegel here. Lombardi Ave’s Dan Dahlke spoke to him ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft, and he’s now a member of the Green Bay Packers.