Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Green Bay Packers didn’t take a safety over the course of seven rounds and 11 picks, the position––at least on paper––stands as one of the thinnest on the team.
Reading between the lines, the Packers are putting a lot of faith in last year’s fourth round draft pick, Jerron McMillian, and to a lesser extent M.D. Jennings and Sean Richardson.
Relying on Morgan Burnett is a given. He’s been a full-time starter the past two seasons and coming off the best year of his career in 2012. There’s little uncertainty with Burnett, but there is at the spot opposite him.
To be sure, there’s reason for optimism regarding McMillian. His 27 tackles and one interception last season were a step in the right direction considering his limited playing time and small-school pedigree.
Above all else, however, it’s McMillian’s aggressive nature and ability to stop the run that comes as his most outstanding trait. His pass coverage still needs work if he hopes to become a three-down player in the NFL, but there’s reason to think he’ll develop into that type of defensive back with a little seasoning given his athleticism.
Whereas McMillian’s strength is his in-the-box physicality, Jennings’ is his fluidity in pass coverage. But weighing in at less than 200 lbs., he seems better suited for a backup role than a week-in, week-out starter.
Richardson could actually be the wildcard in the bunch. If healthy, his combination of size and speed presents a dimension unseen in other safeties on the team. But of course, there’s the underlying health concerns.
This offseason Richardson underwent surgery for a cervical disc herniation. Coming back from such a potentially serious injury is no sure thing. But as long as he’s given the green light by the Packers, you perhaps start to understand why they stood pat at safety during the draft.
It’s still somewhat surprising, however, that the Packers didn’t select a player at what was said to be one of the deepest positions in this year’s draft class.
By no means was it disappointing to see the Packers address the defensive line in the first round at what was considered another obvious area of need. And it would have been pretty damn hard to pass up Eddie Lacy in the second round.
Even if the Packers have the utmost faith in McMillian, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have wanted to add competition––or at the very least, depth––at a position considered one of the biggest question marks in Green Bay.
Earl Wolff, Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas were all available to the Packers in the fourth round or later, and all have the potential to be starting safeties in the NFL.
Even in undrafted free agency, the Packers went the route of taking a flier on a small-school project in Ben Ericksen of Illinois State (a native of Greendale, Wis.).
Including Ericksen, the Packers have six safeties currently on the roster, but among them, there’s not a lot of proven commodities, perhaps lending credence to the notion that they could add a veteran at the position.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said as much in a recent article recapping the Packers’ draft.
“It wouldn’t be unexpected if the Packers signed a veteran safety (Gerald Sensabaugh, Kerry Rhodes, probably not Charles Woodson) to assuage their unfinished business,” wrote McGinn.
Seeing as the Packers probably aren’t looking for a starter, Woodson does seem unlikely despite his leadership and knowledge of Dom Capers’ defense.
Sensabaugh and Rhodes are younger and more athletic options. Rhodes, in particular, was an All-Pro in 2006 and grabbed four interceptions in both 2010 and 2012.
Two former Packers are also available as free agents––Atari Bigby and Charlie Peprah––if they’re are looking for someone with familiarity in Capers’ system.
Assuming the Packers sign the 10 undrafted free agents listed at the Journal Sentinel, the roster will stand at 84 players, meaning there’s six spots still to fill. Most of the open roster berths will be filled by more undrafted college players, some of whom will try out for the team during their rookie orientation camp.
There’s still room for at least one veteran player, and the Packers would be wise to add someone with experience at safety. That player might not be starter or even make the 53-man roster, but it’s worth having an insurance policy just in case a player like McMillian gets hurt or doesn’t pan out.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.