As it stands, there is no more pressing off-season need for the Green Bay Packers than at safety. They looked one blown coverage away from pitiful last year and the main culprit for the poor play in the secondary, M.D. Jennings, has vacated Wisconsin and signed with the Chicago Bears. Morgan Burnett is a good 25-year-old safety with solid skills but still some significant room to improve. Right now however, there is no perfect answer to the question of who to compliment Burnett with at free safety, as he will most likely play the strong safety position next year.
The free agent safeties have been all but completely harvested so far, with Donte Whitner, Jairus Byrd, and Antoine Bethea (three of the best as far as I am concerned) having been signed weeks ago, and Chris Clemens signing with the Texans just days ago. For a while I was considering advocating James Ihedigbo as a decent “value” option if the Packers were in a bind, but his coverage skills are subpar and aside from that the Lions snagged him already. Major Wright is still available as I write this but signing him to anything more than a 1-year deal might be a gamble, as he has suffered with injuries and was not a top producer for the Bears last year.
With there being little in the way of free agent options, the Packers have first looked within their own organisation, and there has been some buzz about Micah Hyde moving from cornerback to safety. Looking at the numbers alone, he is a good choice for the position. At 6’ tall and roughly 200 lbs he is a good, solid size for a free safety. Other than size, his 40 yard dash has been recorded at between 4.52-4.56, which is not the fastest for a defensive back but he is no slouch by any means.
Overall, Hyde has a full skill set that should transfer well from cornerback to safety. The coaching staff has faith in Hyde, and it sound like they are willing to give him a shot at a starting position given the strong showing he supplied in nickel coverage in the 2013 campaign. After playing around 40% of the Packers’ snaps last year and racking up 55 tackles and a forced fumble, Micah Hyde knows how to have an impact on the game.
Despite all the positives just stated regarding Hyde, he’s still young and has yet to be proven as a consistent starter in the NFL. Thus it may still be necessary for the Packers to pick up a safety in the first couple of rounds in the NFL Draft. First, such an acquisition could/will add depth to their group of safeties and second, it would allow for some competition for the top slot between Micah Hyde and whichever NCAA safety is chosen in April. Lucky for Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, that if they do pursue another safety during the draft, the safeties this year are looking very strong, with a number of decent options from which to choose.
Among the NCAA safeties looking for NFL teams this April, there are several who would make good additions to the Packers at free safety. Right now, given NCAA stats and my own experience watching these players, I see four potential solutions for Green Bay at free safety. They also have options about when to draft a safety. Their first option is to draft one right away, in the first round. Their second choice, if the decision has been made to put Hyde as their starting free safety, is to concentrate on drafting a linebacker and/or receiver (both of which they need) in the first round and picking a safety in the second to fourth rounds. What helps make their second choice here a valid option is the skill of the safeties in this year’s draft.
If the Packers decide to pursue a safety in the first round their ideal choices are Alabama’s Ha’sean “HaHa” Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor of Louisville. These two players have slightly different skill sets but both would fit well into Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers’ scheme. Pryor is a fantastic run stopping defensive back who is a devastating hitter, racking up seven forced fumbles in his last two years in college. His 4.58 40 yard dash is respectable but not the best at the combine among safeties by any means. Clinton-Dix on the other hand has not been the steadiest against the run. He’s skilled against the run, don’t get me wrong, but he has at times gotten caught biting on counter and draw plays. With that said, he is the number one safety in this draft year when it comes to pass defense. Given that the Packers need to increase safety productivity in the passing game, I would say HaHa Clinton-Dix is their best bet if they choose a safety in the first round, but Pryor is more than a good option.
In terms of option two; choosing a safety in the second, third or fourth round, the Packers have a few choices, the best two I consider to be Terrence Brooks of Florida State or Dion Bailey of USC. Bailey is perhaps a last resort option, but a skilled one at that. He is on the slow side for NFL safeties but he was a good overall defender and showed very solid durability and versatility in his time at USC. He spent most of his collegiate career as a linebacker but moved to safety for junior year. He excelled at both positions. In pass coverage however, it is easy to see that he is a linebacker at heart, as his footwork is somewhat off and he occasionally lacks instincts when it comes to recognizing routes and playing man. Brooks on the other hand could be a great asset for the Packers due to his speed and overall sense for the breaking up passes. In his junior year at Florida State he had 56 tackles, five passes deflected, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He knows how to play the game very well and if the Packers do not have a safety locked down by the second round, Brooks could be their man. If they draft a linebacker and then a receiver in the first two rounds, Bailey could still be available come the third. Bailey’s overall versatility would also serve him well in the Packers’ upcoming seasons as Mike McCarthy has indicated that the scheme that he and Dom Capers will be operating with will stress versatility and depth, especially with the acquisition of Julius Peppers.
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