Packers 2016 Recap: S Morgan Burnett

2016 Stats

  • Played in 15 games
  • 68 tackles, 9 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery
  • Pro Football Focus: 84/100 (15th out of 89 qualified safeties)

Expectations going into the season: Moderate
Expectations were: Met

Analysis: Burnett evolves into a hybrid safety and linebacker

Morgan Burnett does not fit the mold of the 1980’s NFL safety. He rarely dishes out big hits, but rarely gets exposed. The Packers defense allowed 77 plays of over 20 yards in 2016, and Burnett was deemed responsibly the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for only three.

Burnett does not fit the mold the Packers crafted for him as a rookie in 2010. Originally expected to be the “center fielder” in the secondary, Burnett was then pegged to be a ball hawk. That didn’t fit, either, as Burnett has nine interceptions in seven seasons.

Instead, the defensive captain has become, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette’s Ryan Wood, an elite run defender. This season, Burnett led all safeties and cornerbacks with one tackle every 10.2 snaps. Burnett maximizes his talents, and has fully reached the height of his potential.

In the first week of training camp in July, Burnett lined up in Jake Ryan’s nickel linebacker spot. Considering how often the Packers run either dime or nickel, the prospect of playing Burnett as a hybrid linebacker offered Dom Capers the option to leverage the depth in the secondary.

"I think Morgan can play two or three positions," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He can play safety, he can come down and play dime. I think he covers very well for a guy with his size. I think he supports the run."

Then Sam Shields was lost for the season in Week 1. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins battled injuries and ineffectiveness, and Burnett’s experiment at linebacker became an afterthought.

Once Green Bay got back to their winning ways in December and stabilized their defense, Capers gave Burnett another shot to play nickel linebacker. The defense held Houston to 13 points and Seattle to 10 points, thanks in part to Burnett’s success at linebacker.

Green Bay’s linebackers have struggled covering tight ends and running backs in recent years. Using Burnett as a change of pace at linebacker in the right circumstances helps the Packers get the best 11 players on the field.