How did Carrington Valentine nearly go undrafted?
Carrington Valentine came from college football's premier conference and has already moved to the upper reaches of one of the NFL's top cornerback rooms. So how did he last until the end of the draft?
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As Monday's practice neared its conclusion, the Green Bay Packers went through their move-the-ball period. One particular play pitted starting wideout Romeo Doubs against one of the team's rookies, cornerback Carrington Valentine.
Doubs, now in his second year, has grown into a favorite target of quarterback Jordan Love. The two have connected regularly throughout the Packers' offseason program and training camp to great effect even against top corners Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas. At this stage, a throw to Doubs usually goes well for Love and the offense.
Monday followed a different script, however. With Valentine in coverage, Doubs ran an out, one of his most effective routes. The receiver gained a step on the rookie at the breakpoint, separating as he cut to the sideline and turned his head at the quarterback. Love didn't hesitate. He pulled the trigger, anticipating yet another easy completion to Doubs.
But the ball never reached its intended destination. Instead, Valentine jumped underneath the route and plucked it out of the air, turning a routine pass into a pick-six.
"He did a great job, made a great break on it, and was able to get that pick," Love said of Valentine's interception. "Credit to him. It's one thing you got to learn from right there."
The house call represents just the latest successful moment for Valentine. The rookie has exceeded every expectation since landing in Green Bay as a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. After starting at the bottom of the cornerback rotation, Valentine caught the coaching staff's attention with one stellar play after another. By the time the Packers' preseason opener arrived, he had clawed his way into the No. 3 spot at boundary corner.
That elevation put Valentine in the spotlight. With Alexander missing some time with a groin issue and third-year cornerback Eric Stokes still on the physically unable to perform list, the rookie spent most of last week's practices as the starter opposite Douglas. That trend continued into the Packers' preseason tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals during which Valentine held receivers to just two catches on six targets for 16 yards, broke up multiple passes, and recorded his first NFL interception.
"Even though I'm taking reps with the ones, you still got to be humble about it," Valentine said of his promotion. "But my confidence, being out there with those guys and making plays against the guys going onto Year 2 or 3 and stuff like that and seeing how you fare against them, it really helps a young guy like me. And even the other rookies I see running with the ones, when they make plays against your vets, it really helps your confidence. Like, yeah, I really do belong here."
Valentine shouldn't lack confidence. Prior to joining the Packers, he played for the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC, college football's premier conference. While there, Valentine saw no shortage of future NFL pass catchers, including DeVonta Smith, Jonathan Mingo, and Jalin Hyatt. That sort of trial by fire can go a long way toward preparing a young cornerback for the next level.
Still, the rookie has more than just an SEC pedigree working in his favor. Standing a hair under 6-foot with arms longer than 32 inches, Valentine has an impressive frame for a cornerback and can use that length to redirect receivers and make plays on the ball that many defenders cannot. He also has top-end speed, acceleration, and explosiveness, all physical traits that can help him overcome mistakes. Valentine's 9.30 Relative Athletic Score, a composite rating that factors in multiple tests and measurements, places him among the very elite performers at his position.
"Well, I think he's got the skill set that you'd look for," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of Valentine. "He's athletic, he's long, and he competes. He's not afraid, and I love that about him. He's got a great demeanor. I think he's extremely coachable. I think he's been working really hard. Quite frankly, from the moment we've gotten him, he's had a great attitude. Comes into work each and every day. And you saw it early on and you continue to see it. The guy just shows up in practice and he makes plays and he competes. Really excited about what he could turn into and develop into."
Valentine proved his mettle in the SEC. He emerged from college with a professional demeanor and unimpeachable physical tools. In just a few short months, he has impressed his coaches and teammates and has positioned himself for a substantial role early in his NFL career.
All of which begs the question: How did Valentine nearly go undrafted back in April?
No single cause can fully account for how such a promising prospect fell through the cracks. Rather, a multitude of factors led to Valentine waiting until the final moments of the draft to hear his name called.