If Not Now, When For Packers Safety Josh Jones?

If you’re of the belief that second-year safety Josh Jones isn’t ready to take over the reins at safety for the departed Morgan Burnett, when will he be?

Jones played in all sixteen of Green Bay’s 2017 schedule, starting seven contests. He recorded 56 tackles, two sacks and an interception against the Cleveland Browns that helped the Packers sneak away with an overtime win.

On paper, it seems like the former second-round pick from North Carolina State is ready to take over as the team’s starting safety.

Beat writer Michael Cohen doesn’t seem convinced, however, giving Jones a D- grade. Here was his evaluation:

Capers asked him to play strong safety, inside linebacker and slot corner at various times throughout the season. Jones was most impactful near the line of scrimmage, where he sliced into the backfield for 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. However, Jones imploded the further back he went. Mental mistakes were a major issue in coverage, and Jones led the team in explosive gains allowed. He often was caught peeking into the backfield rather than keeping his eyes on receivers, especially in zone calls. Generally struggled in coverage. Most penalized player on the team with eight (seven accepted). Missed 7.8 percent of tackles, same as cornerback Damarious Randall. Erratic play on special teams forced the coaches to bench him.  

Jones fits the mold of an all-or-nothing safety. When he’s right, he’s going to make splashy, highlight reel plays. When he’s wrong, the other team’s going to make those highlight reel plays. In some ways, he’s the antithesis of Morgan Burnett, whose steady play rarely drew attention and kept him out of the spotlight.

To say that Jones needs another year of seasoning and training before he’s ready to take over as starting safety, though, is foolish. The Packers drafted him in the second round because of his athleticism and playmaking ability, and that’s exactly what he gave the team in his rookie season.

Benching such a high draft pick in his second season would be a near-certain admission that Jones will not be able to contribute at all on defense. Consider the defensive backs Green Bay drafted recently in the first three rounds who have contributed on defense – all were all playing significant snaps early in their careers:

  • Damarious Randall (2015’s 1st round pick) started 18 of 25 games at cornerback in his first two seasons, including nine in his rookie season.
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (2014’s 1st round pick) played in each game of his rookie season, but made his first start in Week 7. He would go on to start each of Green Bay’s remaining games.
  • Casey Hayward (2012’s 2nd round pick) struggled to stay healthy and played as a slot cornerback, which limited his opportunities to start games. He became a full-time starter in his fourth and final season with the Packers.
  • Morgan Burnett (2010’s 3rd round pick) tore his ACL in October of his rookie season, but had started each of Green Bay’s first four games that season.
  • Nick Collins (2005’s 2nd round pick) was a plug-and-play starter at free safety. Until his career was ended on a special teams tackle, Collins was never considered a backup or rotational safety.

The average NFL career lasts between two and three seasons – typically longer if a player was drafted. If Jones is to remain a backup again in 2018, his career may echo two defensive backs whose names didn’t appear above.

Cornerback Pat Lee, drafted by the Packers in 2008’s second round, played in just five games in his rookie season and missed his second season because of injuries. He would only make one career start, and was out of the league after four seasons.

Safety Jerron McMillian, drafted by the Packers in 2012’s fourth round, failed to make it through two full seasons with the team before being cut. He played about half of the defensive snaps as a rookie, and was released late in his second season after a mountain of missed tackles and bad coverage reads.

If Josh Jones is ever going to start at safety for the Green Bay Packers, he’s going to be the starter Week 1 of the 2018 regular season.