Packers size up Damarious Randall as a cornerback

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Scout-speak for a defensive back who can cover the middle of the field sometimes comes out like this: He plays a good center field.

Damarious Randall, the Green Bay Packers' first-round pick, actually played center field.

The 22-year-old comes from a baseball background.

He roamed the outfield at Butler Community College in Kansas. But a shoulder injury ended that and sent him back to football, where he played at Mesa (Arizona) Community College and then Arizona State before the Packers picked him 30th overall Thursday.

"I think [playing center field] is a marvelous trait to have as a defensive back," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said.

So where do the Packers play him?

A safety in college, Randall will make the transition to cornerback in the NFL, Thompson said.

But perhaps it would be wrong to look at Randall as a replacement for Tramon Williams, the long-time starting left cornerback who departed in free agency for the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Randall is more likely a replacement for nickel and dime defensive back Casey Hayward, who should slide into Williams' old spot, and a complement to Micah Hyde in the slot.

There's no question the Packers needed a cornerback, although perhaps not as badly as they still need an inside linebacker, of which only one (Stephone Anthony of Clemson) went in the first round (at No. 31 to the New Orleans Saints).

And there seems to be little doubt that Randall can cover. He picked off nine passes in his one season at Mesa and added six more interceptions in two years at ASU, where the coaches told Thompson they played Randall at safety because that was a more important position than cornerback in their defensive scheme.

Still, it leaves the Packers without much height in their cornerback room. Randall measured at one-eighth of an inch below 5-foot-11 at the NFL scouting combine. Of the returning experienced cornerbacks, only one -- Hyde at an even 6-foot -- stands taller than 5-11. Like Hyde, Randall seems better suited to play in the slot than on the outside.

That would seem troublesome in a division with receivers like Detroit's Calvin Johnson (6-5) and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery (6-3).

Not to Thompson, apparently.

"We're tall enough," he insisted.

Whether Randall was best suited to play safety or cornerback in the NFL was in the eye of the beholder.

"It was kind of mixed," he said in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field shortly after he was picked. “It was probably 12 teams talking about straight corner and then seven or eight talking about safety. Really, it was just whichever team drafted me, and it was their choice of whether they wanted me to play safety or corner.

"Really, honestly, I can play both. Corner's fun to be out there on an island and then safety kind of being back there controlling the back end is also fun. So either one, just being on the field is just kind of my mindset."

The Packers went with Randall over the much taller Jalen Collins (6-1) of LSU, who had more red flags -- a lack of experience (only 10 college starts) and positive drug tests in college among them. He was probably the only other available cornerback with a first-round grade.

The top three corners -- Trae Waynes (11th to the Minnesota Vikings), Kevin Johnson (16th to the Houston Texans) and Marcus Peters (18th to the Kansas City Chiefs) -- were long gone. Another, Byron Jones, a possible target for the Packers, came off the board three picks before their turn when the Dallas Cowboys grabbed him at No. 27.

They also bypassed defensive tackles Malcom Brown (who went 32nd to the New England Patriots) and Eddie Goldman (undrafted).

"We felt fortunate that we were able to draft Damarious Randall that late," Thompson said. "A lot of names have to come off, and that's a hard thing to go through, but we're glad to be where we are."