Sam Shields had a breakout season in 2013 and expectations will be high for him in 2014 after being rewarded handsomely by the Green Bay Packers with a big contract in the offseason.
In 15 games last season, Packers cornerback Sam Shields had 61 tackles, nine missed tackles, four interceptions and 16 passes defensed.
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports
By Paul Imig
FOX Sports Wisconsin's Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.
Season stats: 15 games (902 snaps; 90.1 percent of total defensive snaps), 61 tackles, nine missed tackles, zero tackles for loss, zero sacks, four interceptions, zero forced fumbles, 16 passes defensed, 11 stops (solo tackles that resulted in offensive failure); targeted 84 times in coverage, allowing 42 receptions for 664 yards, four touchdowns
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 0.4 (ranked No. 8 out of 26 Packers defensive players; ranked No. 52 in the NFL among qualifying cornerbacks)
Best game: Week 15 win at Dallas (played 74 of 74 snaps; one interception, three passes defensed, five tackles, one missed tackle, two stops; targeted 10 times in coverage, allowing four receptions for 67 yards; 2.9 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 1 loss at San Francisco (played 79 of 81 snaps; zero interceptions, two passes defensed, nine tackles, one missed tackle, two stops; targeted 10 times in coverage, allowing five receptions for 116 yards, zero touchdowns; minus-2.0 PFF rating)
Looking live: The Packers began offseason training activities in May 2013 without Sam Shields. Dissatisfied that Green Bay had only offered him a second-round restricted free agent tender (worth $2.023 million), Shields didn't show up at OTAs. "I wish Sam was here," coach Mike McCarthy said May 21. But in early June, after having already missed two weeks of practices and with no other great options available to him as mandatory minicamp approached, Shields signed the tender. On June 4, the usually quiet and reserved Shields was vocal about his negative feelings regarding the tender. "I wanted to get paid; it didn't happen," Shields said that day. "I didn't get what I wanted," he added. Shields again skipped out on OTA practices in mid-June. Shields was ranked No. 17 on FOXSportsWisconsin.com's pre-training camp "Most Important Packers in 2013" series. When training camp began, despite being unhappy with his contract status, Shields arrived with something to prove. "The thing I like about Sam, he's got that edge to him," McCarthy said. However, McCarthy added, "but he's rusty; I think that's expected." The rust wore off quickly though, as Shields was named one of Green Bay's starting cornerbacks before the end of training camp. But Shields, perhaps understandably for a player who went undrafted out of college, didn't use that starting nod to get too comfortable. "I'm not going to sit here and say this is my starting position," Shields said Aug. 21. "I've still got to grind each and every day."
Upon further review: Shields had been a good player for the first three years of his NFL career, but 2013 was a breakout season for him. He was tasked with defending many of the league's best wide receivers and performed well in most of those matchups, including against Detroit's Calvin Johnson in Week 13 and against Cincinnati's A.J. Green in Week 3. Wins by Shields against those two receivers is especially impressive given that he's six inches shorter than both Johnson and Green. Shields used to make up for other weaknesses in his game simply because he's so fast. But Shields was much more than just a speedster in 2013. His cover skills have evolved to a point where he does so many other things well that his speed is just a bonus. Before a hamstring injury took Shields out of the games in Weeks 11 and 12, he had gotten to a point where he was arguably the second-most important player on Green Bay's defense (behind Clay Matthews). Shields had a couple bumps in the road throughout the season and hasn't earned unanimous praise from national media and scouts yet, but certain plays are more important than others, and he had one of the Packers' biggest plays of the year. With Green Bay's season on the line, trailing the Cowboys on the road in Week 15 and Dallas inexplicably still throwing the ball despite being up by five points with less than three minutes to go, Shields fully extended his arms on a pass to Miles Austin across the middle of the field and snagged it for a season-saving interception.
Overall 2013 grade: B-plus
Status for 2014: One-hundred percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster to begin the 2014 regular season. There's no way that Shields can be dissatisfied with his contract any longer after signing a four-year, $39 million extension as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It's more money than Shields would have gotten a year earlier had he re-signed as a restricted free agent, and it should keep him in Green Bay through his 30th birthday. Shields is just entering the prime of his career and has been continually getting better every year. Though the Packers have a very good group of cornerbacks, Shields could be the leader of that group soon, especially if Tramon Williams departs after his contract expires next year. With the money that he's now owed, Shields had better be ready for multiple matchups every season with the great group of NFC North wide receivers.