Josh Jones Radiates Potential in Packers' Disappointing Safety Unit

Morgan Burnett is widely considered as someone with the potential to be a schematic centerpiece for new Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whose defensive foundations are built upon the perks of versatility and the ability of players to master multiple concepts.

Meanwhile, another safety in Green Bay may very well provide Burnett a challenger for that title -- if Burnett is re-signed for 2018, of course.

Josh Jones, one of two second-round picks made by the team in the 2017 NFL Draft, is coming off of a rookie season that featured a double-edged sword: He left much to be desired, but even more to look forward to.

Jones came into the league as the highest-drafted safety (61st overall) in North Carolina State school history and is one of only two active players at his position to have played for the school. At the time, he was also an obvious selection.

The Packers were on the heels of letting do-it-all safety Micah Hyde walk at the start of free agency, ultimately lighting the spark to his tenure with the Buffalo Bills that has so far left Packers fans with a hint of distaste on their tongues. Mainly because he was named as a Second-team All-Pro at his position and earned a Pro Bowl nod after recording five interceptions in his first seven games in 2017.

That was the role the Packers expected Jones to fill -- and to a point, he didn't disappoint -- but he was seen primarily as a linebacker in ex-defensive coordinator Dom Capers' "nitro" package. 

Between alternating at a natural safety position and in the box as an extra linebacker, Jones pieced together 735 defensive snaps in his rookie season, good for the second-most of any player in the secondary and trailing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Some of the most important flashes of those snaps came in the week 3 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones got the start as an inside linebacker and was stout against the run and didn't miss a beat, even when the Packers were playing for their second win of the season in overtime.

That day, Jones became the first rookie defensive back in team history to record two sacks in a single game.

Jones' upside was substantial, and that was seen through his 71 total tackles, two sacks and a single interception in his 16 games and seven starts. With Pettine in town, his future isn't necessarily in limbo, but it's in question in terms of where exactly he'll be lining up for a majority of the season.

Burnett hasn't been re-signed yet, and after the Packers' season finale against the Detroit Lions, said he has yet to engage in any talks with the team about returning. That may have changed sometime in the last month, but the 29-year-old safety is expected to have a somewhat expensive market this offseason.

It could open the door for Jones to see an expanded role at safety as opposed to playing in the box as a linebacker, which is a role he may or may not be ready to tackle.

He'd be replacing sizable shoes, as Burnett was often seen as the "quarterback of the defense," and someone who frequently wore the communications headset as a trusted, veteran commander of the back-end. With his future up in the air, it's important for Jones to prepare for all possibilities under a coordinator like Pettine.

The Packers are in dire need of better safety play after a disappointing campaign from Clinton-Dix and undrafted safety Kentrell Brice, whose season ended prematurely on injured reserve after just six games.

For Bleacher Report's NFL1000, their staff ranked the 45 best free safeties in the NFL for 2017, and while Clinton-Dix made an appearance at 13th, Brice was dead-last at 45.

Whether that group improves or not, it'll be without the guidance of Darren Perry, who the team announced on Monday won't be returning to the team. He had coached safeties in Green Bay since 2009 and defensive backs in the league for the past 16 seasons. 

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (26)

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4thand1's picture

January 30, 2018 at 03:36 pm

I think Jones is another player that Capers confused more than helped. Asking young guys to play different positions than college. Let this kid roam the back end and hit, blitz him too.

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TheVOR's picture

January 30, 2018 at 05:51 pm

Dead nuts man, he started the season looking like, wow, did we score on this kid, and by the end of the year I was wondering what in the hell happened to Jones, he went from being a super talent to a liability.

Can't wait to see a new defensive strategy and system with different coaches to an extent, and see what these guys can do. Capers killed this kid off inside of 8 games in the NFL.

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ricky's picture

January 30, 2018 at 03:43 pm

Since the Packers need depth as well as talent, it seems that re-signing Burnett would be a good move in that direction. Give Pettine more players to scheme with, rather than limiting his options.

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John Kirk's picture

January 30, 2018 at 03:52 pm

Is Josh Jones any more impressive than Kentrell Brice? Measurables are almost dead on. 3 cone very different for Brice.

This is a 2nd round pick we're talking about. Sure, there's hope he's on the Nick Collins plan, but he may be on the Jerron McMillian plan, instead.

Jones never looked like he got it. Under Pettine and the cliche 2nd year jump, will he? He was a Vic So'oto this season. A one game wonder. A tease. No consistency. You would've thought after Cincy he would've played better football later in the season as he learned and matured. Not sure that's how it went for him so hard to believe he's an ascending player. Based on simply his play and not factoring a new DC and system, you'd have to say it's more likely he busts than blossoms because he didn't show signs of steady improvement. He was a TC darling and had some early success vs. Cincy (who has one of, if not the worst OL's in football) and then was just there. My hope isn't high for him.

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DD's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:57 pm

No pass rush, no success!

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Coldworld's picture

January 30, 2018 at 06:44 pm

Most safeties don’t get it in year one. I imagine even less often when asked to play in more than one position. One thing he has over Brice is, I think, size. Also Brice was awful this year and has not been able to stay healthy. Brice is another who has yet to l arm the coverage aspect of his position.

One hopes that the new playbook and the new coaches and structure will help them both become more than just fast mini linebackers

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EdsLaces's picture

January 30, 2018 at 03:54 pm

I think Brice is our starting safety within a year or 2. He's a hitter and is always around the ball. People forget about him cause he got hurt, but he's good.

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Handsback's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:10 pm

JJ looks like he can be a true difference maker and playmaker the Packers haven't had since Woodson. I think the 2nd year leap will be impressive and needed since they don't have enough of those. He's got the ability and just needs to see and react verses thinking about what he should do.
Now Brice is OK but I don't see him as being a great difference maker. He doesn't see the field as a centerfielder, more like a tunnel and reacts too late for interceptions. Maybe Pettine can put him into a better position to succeed.

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DD's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:56 pm

Pass rush poor!

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TXCHEESE's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:13 pm

Agree. Brice has that ability to be around the ball and is a very sure tackler. I wish Dix would take some lessons. Burnett is also a willing tackler, and I hope they keep him around. I want someone to push Dix. He was atrocious in coverage and his pursuit and tackling were disappointing. With the other young guys coming along, safety could be a very strong position group for the defense this coming year.

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DD's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:55 pm

Zero pass rush!

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Coldworld's picture

January 30, 2018 at 06:49 pm

I think Brice had trouble tackling this season. The year before definitely he seemed a good tackler

Frankly much more pessimistic about the upside of Brice, Evans and Whitehead. Not the me has shown the ability to cover effectively in the regular season. At least it’s early. Safeties take 3 years to hit their stride oftentimes.

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Razer's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:40 pm

Hard to say about any of the guys in our secondary, particularly the safeties. They all underperformed. Whether this is talent, scheme, injury or other, there was little to cheer about from this group. We all saw physical skill by JJ - I just wonder if he has the brains for the position. I am hoping that the Capers scheme was a hot mess and that accounted for a guy not knowing his assignments. I hope that the new scheme keeps it simple for Jones and he can play with speed. Otherwise, we just may have a fast body that is exploited by good QB's.

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DD's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:55 pm

Zero pass rush!

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DD's picture

January 30, 2018 at 04:54 pm

OKAY, pass rush. We do NOT have one. Our rush instills no fear and little to no pressure on QB's. I'm seeing draft a corner number one at 14, okay, but if we don't get some serious attitude bad ass edge rushers our corners are toast!! I font care who you havw back there! No rush, no sucess agsin next year. FACT. Come on team, get two edge rushers please, and more speed at linebacker.

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nostradanus's picture

January 30, 2018 at 05:30 pm

Jones looked lost out there all season with the exception of the Cincy game,
Brice is a big hitter not a sure tackler
Evans & White have potential
Rollins probably needs to be moved to Safety
Dix was terrible last year
Draft one and let Burnett walk

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Packer_Fan's picture

January 30, 2018 at 05:51 pm

The defense was out of whack late in the season. The safeties were playing deep and the passes were dropping in in front of them. Signal to me no pass rush. Good defences don't normally play that deep. Was that a bad scheme or a change in plan?

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Coldworld's picture

January 30, 2018 at 09:05 pm

A train wreck in progress is what it was. No confidence, coherence or vision.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 30, 2018 at 06:26 pm

Jones is a player that could be great! He showed off his abilities in the Bengals game. Unfortunately he never really was used the same way after that.

I really question how the coaches were using him throughout the year. He was practicing ILB and playing in the box. Then after some injuries happened they moved him to Safety where he looked lost for most of the season. Pretty much after Brice got hurt they shifted him to S full time. When he was drafted he basically was drafted to be a Deone Bucannon type of player. Which was how they started to use him then changed.

I'm really curious to see how Pettine plans to use Jones. He is one of those guys that could be special if used the right way. I have more faith in Pettine then Capers after the last few years in finding the right role for him and using his strengths to their advantage.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 30, 2018 at 09:50 pm

Yeah. I hope Jones is used in ONE spot and makes a big jump. He was in way over his head mentally with Dom's D last year.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 31, 2018 at 06:50 am

That is just it. If he can focus solely on playing safety and learn it, I think we will see a huge jump in his play. Having him play multiple spots is not ideal.

I agree about last year. Though when he was playing the ILB spot he really showed off his skills.

I think he could be a Troy Polamalu type of player. Someone great up in the box.

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dobber's picture

January 31, 2018 at 07:12 am

Troy Polamalu is a pretty high standard to set...

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 31, 2018 at 08:21 am

Not making a comparison. Just saying he could be used in similar ways to how Troy was used..

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Coldworld's picture

January 30, 2018 at 06:55 pm

RC, your phrase “if used in the right way” = music to my ears. Let’s hope that is a central theme of the overhaul on offense as well as defense. Play to the strengths of your roster.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 31, 2018 at 07:04 am

Especially on defense.

Like I mentioned above, I really question if they used guys the right way the last couple of years. Peppers playing DT, Mathews being moved to the normal ILB position (not the hybrid he played in 2014). Hyde playing CB not S.

I'm looking forward to seeing the Pettine lead defense.

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Packer_Fan's picture

January 30, 2018 at 07:27 pm

How do you let go of two probowlers in Hayward and Hyde? Something was wrong with the talent assessors or coaching. Maybe both. I am glad they didn't keep Perry too. Need new coaching. I wish we knew what Wolf and the other scouts thought about the decisions that were made. Too many poor decisions the last years

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