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June 22, 2017

Positional Analysis: Safety

This is the 14th of a 14-part series examining each position going into the offseason.

Starters (B+): Few teams have a better pair of safeties than the Packers. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went to his first Pro Bowl and was named an All-Pro in 2016. Meanwhile, Morgan Burnett quietly had the better season. The veteran from Georgia Tech lined up all over on defense and did a solid job vs. both the run and the pass. Clinton-Dix tackled well and had 5 picks, but didn’t always react quickly enough to provide help on deep balls. That’s been a problem since he entered the league, and it’s why he has only 16 passes defensed in 48 games.

Depth (D+): Micah Hyde’s defection to Buffalo leaves a pair of second-year players as the top backups at the position going into the draft. Both Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans made the 53-man roster as undrafted free agents last summer. Brice wound up playing 333 snaps in 2017, including 76 in the postseason. The former Louisiana Tech standout held his own. The coaches love his athleticism and toughness. Evans is every bit as talented, but he didn’t adjust to the pro game quite as quickly. Jerome Whitehead spent most of last season on the practice squad. He’ll be more than just a camp body this summer.  

Player to watch: I’m not as high on Brice as most people, but I can certainly see the appeal. On a defense that lacks physicality, he’s not afraid to lower the boom on receivers. Whether he has the instincts to be a starter – perhaps as soon as 2018 – remains to be seen. His play this summer will likely determine how aggressively general manager Ted Thompson pursues a long-term extension with the 28-year-old Burnett, who’ll be  eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season.

*Level of need: It would be a good idea to add another safety – either via the draft or free agency. While Evans and especially Brice showed potential as rookies, it would be a gamble to enter the season without another option behind Clinton-Dix and Burnett. An interesting down the road possibility is corner Damarious Randall, who played the position some in college.


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3 Responses “Positional Analysis: Safety”

  1. TJV
    April 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks for this series. I know a lot of work went into it and I have really enjoyed it.

    I know a couple of posters here didn’t like reading the first sentence of your analysis of the starting safeties but I think it’s obviously true. I am a little surprised by the grade you gave the depth at the position, even given that you aren’t as sold on Brice as I, and some of the rest of us are. You write, “(Brice) held his own. The coaches love his athleticism and toughness. Evans is every bit as talented…” and say Whitehead is more than just a camp body. If none of them had played, I’d get the D+, but Brice ‘holding his own’ puts it in the C category for me. I don’t know if Brice can step in and start in 2018, but I think it’s reasonable to expect a year of experience to improve his instincts. If they continue to line up Morgan at ILB, we are likely to see Brice’s progress – or lack thereof – early this year.

  2. Thorny
    April 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Ha ha, TJV. Of course, I think our tandem isn’t as good as given credit for. Solid? Sure. Close to “A” level. No.

    I understand the D+… I may have given a lower grade. While I love Brice, and drove the bandwagon on him from the inception, I’m not sure he’s all that good at what you really need a S to do…COVER. He’s an in the box type. Lays the wood, has crazy speed to go sideline to sideline and also has an uncanny blitz ability that we didn’t seem to utilize but hope we do this year.

    The Dix love I’ve never understood (I understand the 2016 accolades) and Burnett is not a top tier guy to me. A guy like Ed Reed was such a better safety. To think Dix or Burnett was anywhere near someone like Ed Reed is odd to me. Ed Reed was an “A” level safety so to think Dix or Burnett to be B plusers seems off. Nick Collins was a much much better player than either of these guys, also. Come to think of it, Ted has done a nice job drafting the S position. Perhaps, Ha Ha improves to the point he is an elite S but I think Morgan’s hope of ever being that has long since passed him by.

    Relatively speaking, as a starting position group, with Dix and Burnett, we’re above average which can’t be said for most of our other ones.

    Back to Brice, I believed back then, and I do now, that he has the ability to be a game changing type of player. If he can learn to cover behind him better he’ll be exactly that. If you’re in front of him…look out. I don’t think Cole Beasley wants another taste of Kentrell. Shoot, let him loose after the QB and he puts one hit like he put on Beasley on a QB, and that alone will cause a QB to rush his throws. Can’t put a price on what Brice might mean if we give him the old Woodson corner blitz role and he’s able to get on tape things to get in QB’s heads.

    Overall, I’m not worried about the S position. Way too many other areas to be concerned with. This is one time if I heard Ted say that we’re good at the S position, I’d actually agree with him.

  3. speakeasy
    April 25, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Agree on Burnett is maxed at this point. Above average safety who will never be elite.

    I’m still holding out hope the HHCD can continue to develop further. I can recall Collins taking until his fourth or fifth year before he really blossomed (it’s true). I would say HHCD is ahead of where Collins was after 3 seasons.

    However, Collins had really good speed for a safety and once the game slowed down for him he was close to elite. Darn it, still makes me mad his career ended early.

    Safety is really deep this year as well so it’s possible even a late rounder here (5th round or later) could develop on the PS. However, outside of QB and TE, this is a likely the only other position TT does not have to address in this draft.

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