When a reporter tried to give Ron Wolf credit for drafting Donald Driver in the last round of the 1999 draft, the straight-shooting former general manager of the Packers set the record straight. “If I were that smart,” he admitted, “I would’ve taken him a lot earlier.” It’s safe to assume Wolf’s protegé, Ted Thompson, would say something similar about signing Sam Shields as an undrafted free agent on Apr. 28, 2010. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that 32 teams – including Green Bay – didn’t deem the speedy cornerback worth even a seventh-round pick. You know what’s even harder to imagine? The Packers winning their fourth Lombardi Trophy and 13th world championship without the former wide receiver from the University of Miami.
Just imagine how different things would’ve been on defense had Shields not accepted Green Bay’s modest $7,500 signing bonus. Jarrett Bush almost certainly would’ve opened the season as the No. 3 corner after Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee flamed out during training camp. Think Dom Capers would’ve been willing to play as much press-man coverage with Bush on the field? And what about Charles Woodson? He went to yet another Pro Bowl after lining up 80% of the time in the slot, where his toughness and short-area quickness allowed him to excel. Without Shields, the 34-year-old might’ve had to play a lot more from the outside, where his diminished speed would’ve been a liability.
There’s no way to predict how many games Green Bay would’ve won without Shields, but it’s safe to say the number would’ve been below the 10 that was needed to qualify for the playoffs. And even if the Packers somehow managed to sneak into the postseason, their road to the Super Bowl almost certainly would’ve ended in either Philadelphia or Chicago. Watch those two games again and see just how effectively Shields played. The 23-year-old was able to hold up one-on-one against Jeremy Maclin in the Wild Card game, which allowed Capers to keep two defenders on the dangerous DeSean Jackson at all times. Two weeks later in the NFC Championship, he had a pair of huge interceptions. The first kept the Bears from scoring at the end of the first half and the second ended the game with the home team driving for a potential tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
And here’s the scary thing – as well as Shields performed last season, he’s nowhere near a finished product. He’s only played on defense since 2009, so he’s still very raw. And his blazing speed couldn’t always make up for numerous rookie mistakes – both mental and physical. That’s obvious when you look at the statistics. He gave up the second-most touchdown passes (four) and allowed the most number of plays of 20 yards or more (10).
With Shields and Tramon Williams, the Packers should be set at cornerback for the foreseeable future. That has to be a comforting feeling when you consider just how hard it is to find capable players at this key position. Remember Fred Vinson, Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas? All were high picks who couldn’t cut it in the NFL. So the next time you here somebody say that drafting is an inexact science, believe it. Thirty-two teams passed on Shields anywhere from five to 12 times in 2010. And the next time you hear a GM say it’s better to be lucky than good, believe that too. Seven teams offered Shields a contract, and for some reason, he chose Green Bay. So while Thompson was very good last year, he probably wouldn’t be picking up a ring next week if he also wasn’t a little lucky.