Heading into 2017, safety was believed to be the best positional group on Green Bay’s defense (along with the defensive line). While the safeties didn’t completely underwhelm, their play fell well below expectations. Injuries to Morgan Burnett and Kentrell Brice played a part, as did Ha Ha Clinton-Dix‘s regression. The position has a lot to prove heading into 2018, and it will certainly have a different look to it at the top of the depth chart this upcoming season.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix:

2017 Stats: 16 games, 79 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 passes defended

Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season

As mentioned earlier, Ha Ha had an extremely disappointing campaign just one season after being voted to his first Pro Bowl. While the fifth-year safety played all 16 games once again this past season, it was very noticeable that something was wasn’t quite right. The former first-round pick looked much more tentative this season than in seasons past, playing much more hesitantly when in the box and taking poor angles in coverage. During the season, many speculated that his drop-off in play may have been due to injury, but this didn’t appear to be the case as Ha Ha played even once the Packers were eliminated from postseason contention, a period when many starters sat out. Whatever the case may be, Mike Pettine will certainly be relying on Ha Ha to bounce back and lead the back end of the defense with veteran Morgan Burnett moving on to Pittsburgh.

Morgan Burnett:

2017 Stats: 12 games, 68 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defended

Contract Situation: Signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason

Speaking of Burnett, I don’t believe that it has been emphasized enough this offseason about how much Burnett has meant to the Packers defense over the years. While the nine year veteran has never been a ball hawk who puts up flashy stats, it’s very apparent how much the defense misses him when he is out of the lineup. This was especially true this past season, where Dom Capers’ defense was notorious poor at communication and regularly had guys lining up in the wrong positions. These mistakes were greatly mitigated when Burnett was in the lineup. Despite the fact that Burnett was approaching the age of thirty, and has suffered through numerous injuries throughout his career, he has proven to be a versatile chess piece throughout his Green Bay career, playing both safety positions, inside linebacker, slot cornerback, and even on the boundary in emergency situations. With Mike Pettine running a varied scheme that utilizes multiple different packages, he will certainly be looking for versatile players who can many different roles, and for this reason I find it a bit shocking that the Packers did not make more of an effort to retain Burnett.

Josh Jones:

2017 Stats: 16 games, 71 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 5 passes defended

Contract Situation: Signed through 2020 season

A bit of a surprise in the second round in the NFL Draft last season considering that safety appeared as a strength, the Jones’ pick now makes a lot of sense considering that Green Bay just allowed their longtime safety to walk in free agency for a relatively cheap deal. In his rookie season, Jones played a versatile role just like Burnett, spending a lot of time at inside linebacker in addition to a more traditional role at strong safety. He had a very up and down rookie campaign, showing loads of potential with a two interception game against Cincinnati, but also disappeared for long stretches of time. However, one theme was very obvious throughout the season: Jones makes much more of an impact playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a hybrid role as compared to a traditional safety role. Heading into 2018, I believe Jones will see a lot more time at inside linebacker along side Blake Martinez and leave the strong safety position to either Kentrell Brice or a draft pick.

Kentrell Brice:

2017 Stats: 6 games, 23 total tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season

A hard-hitting undrafted free agent from the 2016 season, Brice had a promising rookie season but unfortunately lost the majority of his second season to an ankle injury. Because of this, Brice was never able to find his rhythm last season and did not display the same ferocity on defense as he did over his rookie campaign, but he also appeared to improve in coverage, a skill he struggled with in 2016. I suspect Brice is the favorite for the starting safety job opposite Ha Ha on paper with Jones primed for a role inside the box, but expect Pettine to rotate Brice, Jones, and any future additions in and out with regularity.

Marwin Evans:

2017 Stats: 16 games, 24 total tackles, 1 forced fumble

Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season

Evans, a native of Milwaukee, is another undrafted free agent from the 2016 season, although despite being healthy both years, he has made far less of an impact on defense than Brice has. At this point, Evans hasn’t shown much more than being just a guy on defense, and while he is not terrible in any aspects of his game, he doesn’t have any traits that really stand out either. The one thing Evans has going for him is his ability on special teams, where special teams coordinator Ron Zook will be looking for new guys to step up in his unit with Jeff Janis and Joe Thomas moving on to other teams this offseason. Evans fits the bill as new leader on special teams units, as he has played a large amount of snaps there over his two seasons in the NFL. This, combined with his experience playin on defense last season with the rash of injuries in the secondary should lead to Evans’ roster spot being secure for at least one more year.

Jermaine Whitehead:

2017 Stats: 10 games, 11 total tackles, 1 pass defended

Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season

Jermaine Whitehead is yet another undrafted free agent who rounded out the safety position a year ago. Whitehead’s primary contributions to the Packers were on special teams, although he did see time at safety and even slot cornerback due to injuries in the secondary. Although Whitehead is only 25 years old, I expect Green Bay to draft an upgrade over Whitehead when it comes to secondary depth, as he was liability more often than not on defense, as well as special teams.

Level of Need: Medium

Overall, the safety position had a disappointing 2017 season, and it leaves more questions surrounding the position than most would’ve guessed heading into the 2018 season. The success of the Packers’ last line of defense will come to whether or not guys like Clinton-Dix and Brice can bounce back after down seasons and step up as leaders with Burnett now gone, as well as the development as Josh Jones. While the lack of experience at the position on paper may frighten some, I believe that Green Bay won’t pursue any free agents at the position, focusing just on the draft to add reinforcements to the secondary. This could come either at 14th overall with picks that could start on day one like Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick, provided either falls that far in the draft, or in the middle rounds of the draft to find a prospect to develop behind Ha Ha, Brice, and Jones.

All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.

All contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com.

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