2017 Packers Preview: Safeties Represent Past and Future

The name “safety” feels like a misnomer in the 2017 NFL. No longer are these players confined to deep coverage, providing one last line of defense. Today, safeties are expected to attack as much as defend, wreaking havoc via athleticism and versatility.

There is no better evidence of this trend than the Packers’ planned use of Mogan Burnett and Josh Jones. Both are expected to be linebackers just as much as safeties, roaming the box and hanging out in deep coverage.

But there’s plenty of deep cover to go around, too, and fresh off his first Pro Bowl, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be patrolling the secondary ready to swoop in wherever he’s needed.

If all goes according to plan, the Packers could be lining up a great mix of past and present in the secondary this year.

Veteran to watch: Morgan Burnett

The “contract year performance” idea is a truism, more likely to be perceived as right than actually mean anything.

That being said, if there’s any truth to it, the Packers could be in line for a great year from Burnett.

Though the team all but drafted his replacement, Burnett will be the proof of concept for any future plans of using a hybrid safety/linebacker in the defense. If he can show it works, the Packers may have struck on something big and Burnett could be in line for a big payday.

Notable newcomer: Josh Jones

Jones is the aforementioned possible replacement for Burnett, but in the short term he’ll more likely be playing the role of Micah Hyde, lining up all over the defense and using his versatile skill set to confound opposing passers.

As we’ve argued before, a varied role could lead to early success for Jones. If he has simple responsibilities that depend on him just being an athlete and making plays, he could be well suited to provide some early returns from this year’s crop of rookies.

Biggest question: Which young players step up?

Jones is the most notable rookie in the safety group, but don’t forget about Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans. Though they have very different body types, both are extremely athletic and can contribute to the defense in their own way. Brice in particular showed a nose for the ball and an ability to lay the lumber when needed in the playoffs.

Key number: 5

Morgan Burnett is the perfect case study for numbers not telling the whole story. He’s corralled just five interceptions over the past five seasons, but in that same span he’s been rated by Pro Football Focus (and Mike McCarthy, which is even more important) as one of the top overall safeties in the game. Always keep in mind that stats, while useful, don’t always give a complete picture.