After losing defensive backs Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency, Packers general manager Ted Thompson moved to shore up the secondary by selecting Arizona State’s Damarious Randall with the 30th pick in the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night.
The 5-11, 196-pound Randall, who played one year of junior college baseball before returning to football, was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection last season for the Sun Devils.
The selection was somewhat surprising in that both Williams and House were cornerbacks while Randall played safety at Arizona State, but Thompson indicated that Randall would be versatile enough to play where needed in Dom Capers’ defensive packages.
"I think he's a football player," Thompson said. "He's got really good ball skills, and he's got kind of a knack for catching the ball. He's capable of punt returns. He's played center field in baseball in junior college, which I think is a marvelous trait to have as a defensive back."
It was the second consecutive year that the Packers chose a safety in the first round, taking Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick overall last season.
Thompson said that Randall could have played corner at Arizona State, but was more valuable at safety.
"It was told to me, he would have been their best corner ... but in their defense, safety play is so important and crucial to the production of the defense, that they had to play him on the inside," Thompson said.
"We think he's a very versatile player," he continued. "We'll probably line him up as a corner. But in Dom's system those defensive backs are all over the place. It's hard to keep up with who's playing what."
Randall, who spoke by telephone with reporters in Green Bay after he was selected, said he originally was slated to play cornerback for the Sun Devils.
"I was coming in as a corner, but we sat down, and they said we need you at safety," Randall said. "We do not have a safety and asked me to play that role."
"I have a background in both of them ... I just feel I can play whatever they're asking me to play, corner or safety. Whatever the coaching staff feels that is best for me to help the team."
Randall said some team’s viewed him as a safety, others as a cornerback.
"It was kind of mixed," he said. "It was probably 12 teams talking about straight corner, seven or eight talking about safety. Really, it was kind of whichever team drafted me, it was their choice whether they wanted to play me at corner or safety."
Thompson, who has a history of trading down to stockpile more draft choices, said he was contacted by several teams but decided against making a move.
"Took a few (calls). A couple of teams were wanting to move back up at the end of the round, but obviously we didn't do anything," Thompson said.
"Quite frankly, some of the trade proposals to us were a little bit skewed in the other team's favor," he said. "And, that's the way it normally is, it's skewed some way."
Randall, the first Sun Devil picked in the first round since linebacker Terrell Suggs in 2003, had 177 tackles, including 133 solo and 15 tackles for loss in his two seasons at ASU. He had three interceptions in each of his two seasons, returning one for a touchdown in both 2013 and 2014.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Randall going even higher in his final mock draft, with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking him at No. 22.
Randall, a native of Pensacola, Fla., originally played baseball at Butler Community College during the 2010-11 school year, but returned to football after hurting his shoulder.
After redshirting for the 2011 football season, he played one season at Mesa Community College, where he was named an NJCAA First-Team All-American. He also was named all-conference at both cornerback and as a returner. He averaged 18.4 yards on punt returns, with two touchdowns and 28.2 yards on 19 kickoff returns.
NFL.com gave the Packers a grade of B+ for their first pick, saying Randall was perhaps the best coverage safety available, "albeit, in a weak class."
Four cornerbacks were taken ahead of Randall, who was the first safety selected. The Minnesota Vikings took the first cornerback, Michigan State’s Trae Waynes, at No. 11. Waynes was a high school teammate of Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon at Kenosha Bradford. Gordon was taken with the 15th pick by the San Diego Chargers.
Alabama safety Landon Collins, rated ahead of Randall in most pre-draft rankings, was not drafted in the first round.
The Packers have Sam Shields back as one starting cornerback, with Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward both returning, along with Demetri Goodson.
When the draft resumes on Friday, the Packers second-round pick will be No. 62 overall, while their third-round choice will be No. 94 overall.
On Saturday, the Packers have their own picks in rounds four through seven, as well as two compensatory picks at the end of the sixth round.
After jettisoning inside linebackers A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore, the Packers have a need at that position, as well as at outside linebacker and on the defensive line.