Friday, April 25, 2014

Grading The 2013 Safeties For The Packers

Earlier this week, I wrote about their need to add depth at safety in the draft and that position really stands out when you look at the current roster where only three players are listed as safeties.

Who's gone: M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian. The one thing that they had in common was that they're both awful against the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, they had the two lowest ratings of all the Packer defenders in pass coverage last season. McMillian, who was released mid-season, was seemingly beaten every time he was targeted, and the coaches must have saw nothing in him that they could fix. Jennings wasn't quite that bad, but he didn't make any plays in coverage (0 INTs) and he sometimes looked lost in coverage. These were moves that had to be made.

The starters: Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde. Hyde's still listed as a cornerback on the official roster, but everyone's talking like he'll be the starting safety. His rating in pass coverage was only a 0.0 according to Pro Football Focus last season, but that was actually the 2nd highest on the team of all the defensive backs who played over 200 snaps last season (only CB Sam Shields was higher). He was a late round pick for a reason, he doesn't have elite speed or size for the position, but he's a player who can fill the role, which will be a big improvement on last season.

I don't think Burnett's ever going to be a star, he might never make a Pro Bowl, but he was much better in 2012. I'm sure the hope is that he'll return to that form, maybe his early season hamstring injury bothered him throughout 2013, but his improvement next season shouldn't be considered a given.

The other options: Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo. I'm impressed Richardson returned to the field after cervical fusion surgery and he wasn't a liability in his 156 snaps. But that doesn't give me any confidence that he's ready to be considered for a starting job either.

Banjo was impressive during the preseason and he was one of the few DBs with a positive rating in pass coverage from Pro Football Focus (in only 192 snaps) but he does seem to have a Sam Shields-like aversion to playing against the run. Banjo could be in the mix in 2014 as the deep safety on 3rd down, similar to what M.D. Jennings provided in 2012, while Hyde moves closer to the line and/or plays against the slot receiver.

So I can see how the safety position could be as good in 2014 as it was in 2012 (not a high bar to clear) but their depth is paper thin with no Plan B other than Sean Richardson. I can understand why they avoided veterans in free agency (a safety who's lost a step isn't a good option) but they need to add to the position in 2014, whether it be through the draft or converting another cornerback to safety.

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