Green Bay Packers

A Poor Combine Showing Could Complicate Green Bay's Plans At Safety

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We’re approaching the “meat” of the NFL off-season. We’re just past the NFL Scouting Combine and just over a week from the start of the new league year and free agency. We have a much better idea of what teams need, what types of players are available in both acquisition avenues, and what resources teams have. For the Green Bay Packers, it’s fair to say one of their biggest needs is at the safety position.

With only Darnell Savage and Tariq Carpenter (who plays more of a hybrid role) under contract, the safety room is looking bare. And it wasn’t that spectacular in 2022 to begin with. A rough year from Savage and a rare down year from Adrian Amos hurt Green Bay’s secondary. Despite flashes from late free-agent acquisition Rudy Ford, the Packers didn’t get much from the group.

The Packers need to rebuild the room, but this isn’t a great year to need a safety. Viewed from the outside as a “weak” draft class, this year’s crop of draftable safeties did little to help their cause at the combine. What does the overall poor showing from the safeties at the combine mean for Green Bay’s approach to roster-building?

As always, the Packers prefer to draft and develop their core players. While they aren’t afraid to fill roster gaps with veterans through free agency, they tend to look for long-term solutions in the draft.

To fix their rocky defensive history, the Packers have thrown draft picks into the fire hoping to field a dominant unit. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the team has spent only two first-round selections on offense — Derek Sherrod in 2011 and Jordan Love in 2020. Their other 11 first rounders have been defenders. It stands to reason that Green Bay might look to address their current safety problem early in the draft.

But the safeties at the combine did little to impress themselves upon Green Bay’s strict athletic preferences. Already viewed as an overall weak class by draft analysts, the safety class did little to fight against that perception.

We know the Packers target athletically gifted players through the draft and that they are particular about their sizes. In fact, some of their biggest busts are when they go against these preferences.

Based on athletic testing alone, you’d be hard-pressed to find an early safety for Brian Gutekunst.

Twenty-six safeties earned Relative Athletic Score (RAS) ratings at the combine. Only eight scored above 8.0. While the Packers certainly don’t use RAS and have their own metric for this type of thing, RAS is helpful for those of us outside the building. Per Paul Bretl, 30 of Gutekunst’s 42 selections had 8.0 or high scores, with 18 of those scoring 9.0 or higher. We might not know exactly how the Packers score athleticism, but we know they value good athletes.

This means that only eight safeties fall within their usual perimeters. When you look at “high-round talents,” that number gets even smaller. When looking at the projected top 50 names, there were only two or three consensus names to begin with — Alabama’s Brian Branch, Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown, and Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson. Branch, in particular, is a popular name connected to the Packers in mock drafts and met with the team at the combine. All three scored significantly below 8.0.

Of Brian Gutekunst’s first-round draft picks, Darnell Savage had the lowest RAS, with 8.37. While not impossible, it’s hard to see the Packers using a first-round selection on a player like Branch with a 6.38 RAS.

Green Bay already doesn’t like throwing rookies into the fire immediately. If they choose to wait until later in the draft to target a more athletically-gifted safety, that player may not see playing time immediately. So how will Green Bay address their need for 2023?

Gutekunst could throw caution to the wind and target a player like Branch anyway. It may go against type, but ultimately, a player’s tape can make the final decision, especially if the player is a good cultural or scheme fit.

Or the Packers could address the problem in free agency. No matter what happens at quarterback, Green Bay isn’t flowing with cap space. But if they want a player, they can make it happen. Earlier this off-season, PFF suggested former Cincinnati Bengals safety Vonn Bell could land in Green Bay. While Bell has missed his fair share of tackles, he’s been a solid, available player that could help the Packers. Other names to watch for are John Johnson III, Juan Thornhill, Julian Love, and Terrell Edmunds.

Should Green Bay go this route, they could either take someone later in the draft and have them learn behind their chosen veteran, as they’ve chosen to double up before, or hope for a stronger class next season.

The Packers could also choose to work with players they’re familiar with. Adrian Amos is coming off of a down year, but he could return on a team-friendly deal to maintain some continuity. Or the Packers could take a swing and try Rasul Douglas at safety — something Brian Gutekunst floated at the combine.

The Packers need a boost at safety, but this draft class may not hold the long-term answer they need. Lots of factors go into draft picks. However, there isn’t a sure-fire long-term safety in the draft, and the top guys had a poor performance at the combine. Green Bay may need to wait out the storm with a free agent, bring back some aging options, or risk a position swap to get through 2023.

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Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers have been one of the worst teams in the NFL at drafting in the third round under Brian Gutekunst. There’s no way to […]

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