Where the Packers’ defensive backfield stands ahead of the NFL Draft

By Jalen Maki

As a guy whose sports intake is largely made up of football and baseball, and who has recently endured the very dark period of time between the Super Bowl and the start of the MLB season, I enthusiastically say the following: The NFL Draft is upon us once again.

In this year’s Draft, the Green Bay Packers have five top-100 picks and 11 total selections (tied with the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams for the most in the league), and two positions that have a pretty good chance of being addressed are cornerback and safety.

With the Draft happening in Detroit from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27, let’s take a look at where the Packers’ defensive backfield stands currently.


The clear Number One Dude in the Packers’ cornerback room headed into the 2024 season is Jaire Alexander. Green Bay’s 2018 first round pick out of Louisville will be looking to bounce back after logging only seven starts last season. While nine of the games Alexander missed were chalked up to back and shoulder injuries, he was also suspended by the team for the Packers’ Week 17 game against the Chicago Bears after declaring himself a captain and nearly botching the coin toss before the team’s Week 16 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Alexander finished the 2023 season with 27 total tackles and one interception, which came in Dallas in the playoffs. He’ll surely be champing at the bit to remind us all why he’s one of the NFL’s premier corners.

Another bounce back candidate for 2024 is Eric Stokes. Drafted by the Packers out of Georgia at 29th overall in 2021, Stokes had a stellar rookie campaign. That year, Alexander missed some time, and Stokes stepped up in a big way, recording 55 total tackles and a pick while allowing a 49.5 completion percentage on passes thrown his direction. Unfortunately, since his breakout year, it’s been tough sledding for the former Bulldog: a foot injury limited him to nine games in his second season in Green Bay, and a hamstring issue last year landed him on injured reserve. Stokes ultimately played in only three games in 2023. Although Stokes hasn’t seen the field much over the last two seasons, there’s hope that he can still be the dominant player he was in his rookie year.

Next up is Keisean Nixon. Nixon signed a one-year contract with the Packers in 2022 after spending his first three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. Since his arrival in Green Bay, Nixon has showed out on special teams: he earned back-to-back All-Pro kick returner honors from the Associated Press in 2022 and 2023 – only the fourth player in league history to do so. Nixon stepped into a larger defensive role in 2023, logging 800-plus snaps as the Packers’ slot cornerback. He took advantage of the opportunity, recording 80 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one-half sack, six pass breakups and one interception. Last month, Nixon and the Packers reached a three-year, $18 million deal, ensuring he’ll continue to be a key defensive and special teams contributor.

Also set to return in 2024 is Carrington Valentine. A seventh-round pick out of Kentucky in 2023, Valentine started several games in the back half of his rookie campaign while Alexander and Stokes were out with injuries, playing 694 snaps. He recorded 43 total tackles, broke up five passes, and allowed a completion percentage of 57.4% last season. He’ll look to build on his solid rookie year.

Corey Ballentine signed with Green Bay in 2022 after playing his first two seasons with the New York Giants and his third with the New York Jets. Ballentine was brought up from the Packers’ practice squad in the middle of 2022, and over the course of 14 games last year, he played 488 snaps and logged 39 total tackles, four pass breakups and a pick. Ballentine signed a one-year contract in March, providing the Packers with some depth, both at corner and on special teams.

Speaking of depth, the Packers also brought back Robert Rochell this offseason. Rochell didn’t see the field on defense last season, but he did play 117 snaps on special teams, and he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a roster spot in training camp this summer.


The Packers, relative to past seasons, were pretty big players in free agency this offseason. The team made two splashes: One was bringing in former Raiders running back Josh Jacobs to replace Aaron Jones, who joined the Minnesota Vikings; and the other was the signing of star safety Xavier McKinney.

The arrival of McKinney is a big step in bolstering the safety position. Two guys who saw snaps in the position last year are gone: Darnell Savage signed a three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars last month, and Jonathan Owens is now in Chicago. With Rudy Ford currently a free agent, second-year man Anthony Johnson Jr. is the only safety currently slated to return this season.

Back to McKinney: The man was a rockstar at Alabama. In his final season with the Crimson Tide, he led the team in tackles (95) and forced fumbles (four) while tallying 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and three interceptions. McKinney was drafted by the New York Giants early in the second round in 2020, and his versatility allowed him to excel in defending against both the pass and the run. He’s coming off the best season of his career, during which he had 116 total tackles, one-half sack, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and three picks. McKinney signed a four-year, $68 million deal in March, making him a key component of Green Bay’s defense for the foreseeable future as Jeff Hafley gears up for his first season as the Packers’ defensive coordinator.

Potential draft targets

So, we’ve established which defensive backs the Packers have in the building right now. But who might they bring in?

There are a few cornerbacks who Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst would likely be very psyched to select with the team’s first pick at 25th overall. Assuming Green Bay stands pat at their currently-allotted first round pick, guys like Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Nate Wiggins out of Clemson, and Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry could be in play. But, these players could join cornerbacks like Terrion Arnold (Alabama) and Quinyon Mitchell (Toledo) in being selected before Green Bay’s on the clock, and if the Packers go with, say, an offensive lineman at 25, Gutekunst could have his eye on guys like Mike Sainristil (Michigan), Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (Missouri) and Kamari Lassiter (Georgia) later on.

Even with McKinney now in the Green and Gold, safety remains a need. The Packers may go with Minnesota standout Tyler Nubin with an earlier post-first round pick (or even at 25th overall). Or, they could opt to take someone like Georgia’s Javon Bullard, Kamren Kinchens out of Miami, Washington State’s Jaden Hicks, or Calen Bullock out of USC a little further down the line.

DISCLAIMER: I cannot stress enough that the NFL Draft is very weird, so if the Packers trade out of round one and use their first two picks on a punter and a long snapper, please do not send me any angry emails.Jalen’s columns, “The Free Play” and “Movies You Gotta See,” can be found online at www.medium.com/@jalenmaki.

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