Brian Gutekunst's comments about Packers cornerback room better be a smokescreen

Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst
Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Upgrading the secondary was among the Green Bay Packers' top priorities entering the offseason.

They made a great start by signing Xavier McKinney in free agency, a rising star at safety. The Packers brought back starting slot corner Keisean Nixon, but more work is required in the cornerback room.

At least, that's what we thought.

Green Bay has battled injuries at cornerback, with Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes missing a combined 47 games over the past three seasons. Alexander is still an All-Pro when healthy, but the Packers don't know what they have in Stokes, who has struggled since an encouraging rookie year in 2021.

The Packers relied on seventh-round rookie Carrington Valentine, who played admirably, and special teams player Corey Ballentine after trading starter Rasul Douglas last season. Strengthening the cornerback depth chart seemed like a high priority, but general manager Brian Gutekunst threw cold water on that idea with his recent comments.

Packers fans hope Brian Gutekunst's overconfidence in cornerback room is a smokescreen

It's lying season in the NFL. Coaches and general managers attempt to hide their real intentions ahead of the draft, keeping their cards close to their chest. They also will always speak highly of players currently on the roster, even if it's an area of need.

Packers fans can only hope that was Gutekunst's plan when he met with reporters at the NFL's league meeting this week. He sounded overconfident in Green Bay's cornerback room.

"If we can stay healthy there, I like the way the competition in that room is shaping up," said Gutekunst.

That's a big if. As noted, preferred starters Alexander and Stokes have missed almost 50 regular-season games between them since 2021. If nothing else, the Packers need a better insurance policy to cover for potential injuries—and that's the best-case scenario.

It's also possible Alexander is the only top-tier cornerback on the roster.

Stokes hasn't played well even when healthy over the past two seasons. Per Pro Football Reference, he allowed a completion percentage of 75.0 and a passer rating of 145.3 last season. He gave up three touchdown passes in only three games. In 2022, Stokes allowed 80.0 percent of passes to be completed, with quarterbacks earning a passer rating of 123.5.

Slot corner is another concern with Keisean Nixon's up-and-down play at such an important position, but it sounds like his performances convinced the Packers.

Gutekunst said re-signing Nixon was a "high priority."

"He did such a good job for us in his first year as a starting nickel playing that many snaps on defense," said Gutekunst. "We certainly think his best football is ahead of him. We're excited about what he can do for our defense."

Gutekunst added that having "stability" at the nickel corner position "gives me some peace."

The Packers put their money where their mouth is. Justis Mosqueda of Acme Packing Company wrote a great piece on how Green Bay paid Nixon like an elite slot corner. It's one thing to say they have confidence in him, but it's another to back it up.

Did the Packers watch the same tape as the rest of us?

According to PFF, Nixon allowed a completion percentage of 80.8 and a passer rating of 103.3 in his coverage. Nixon earned a PFF coverage grade of just 60.4, ranking 83rd among all cornerbacks who played at least 150 coverage snaps.

He made some plays, most notably intercepting Patrick Mahomes in the Packers' win over the Kansas City Chiefs, but he isn't an elite slot corner, regardless of what his contract says.

Green Bay could, and should, add cornerback talent in the draft. They are reportedly hosting slot corner Jarrian Jones for a Top 30 visit, which is encouraging.

The Packers need reinforcements. Alexander is an All-Pro but has struggled to stay healthy. Valentine showed promise, but it's a risk to rely on a seventh-rounder with a lot still to prove. Green Bay doesn't know how many games Stokes will play and whether he can recapture his rookie form. And they should certainly add another corner who can play in the slot to compete with Nixon.

Green Bay must consider early-round options in a talented cornerback class. That doesn't necessarily mean trading up for Quinyon Mitchell or Terrion Arnold—although that would be incredible—but targeting a Day 2 talent like Max Melton or T.J. Tampa would help solidify a premium position.

More Packers news and analysis