Green Bay Packers

Green Bay’s Triple Dip At Safety Is Perfect For Jeff Hafley

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When new Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley held his introductory press conference in April, he emphasized that one of his core beliefs as a coach is to put his players in the best position to succeed.

“What is this team going to be able to do best to allow us to win games?” he posed. “Whether those ideas come from the staff or we all put it together, that’s how I’m going to do it here.” Hafley also wanted his defense to lead the league in effort and takeaways.

Since Hafley’s introduction, the Packers have transformed their defense, especially the safety room. First, the Packers signed Xavier McKinney from the New York Giants to be a leader on defense. He’s also a versatile Swiss Army knife safety who can play the post, free, or strong safety spots in different defensive alignments. Then the Packers attacked the position this past weekend in the draft by picking Georgia’s Javon Bullard in the second round, Oregon’s Evan Williams in the fourth, and Oregon State’s Kitan Oladapo in the fifth.

Packers fans have seen this strategy before. Brian Gutekunst has preferred to double- and triple-dip on positions in the draft. Additionally, he has paired incoming rookie players with veteran talent in the room, like when he drafted Rashan Gary out of Michigan after signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in 2019.

In Bullard, Williams, and Oladapo, the Packers have prioritized defenders who can play fast and aggressively, are position-flexible, and are willing tacklers. The Packers vice president of player personnel described the trio by saying, “Those guys are all movable pieces. The thing we liked about all of them is they have a very aggressive play style.”

I wrote about Bullard after the Senior Bowl. He’s a tough, physical player who does his best playing downhill and is unafraid to tackle and get involved in the run game. Gutekunst viewed Bullard as a versatile player.

“He can play nickel. He can play safety,” Gutekunst said. “He’s a big-time leader for that football team at Georgia.”

Here’s a good look at Bullard showing vision, reading the play well, and laying a big-time hit:

Similar to Bullard, the Packers think that Evan Williams can play nickel and safety. Packers national scout Sam Seale described Williams as playing safety a bit like a linebacker in terms of his tackling ability and being unafraid to throw his body into the fray. Here’s a good look at Williams’ game and his overall physicality.

Whether it’s in defending the run, blitzing, or fighting for the ball, he brings it:

In Kitan Oladapo, the Packers selected a larger, longer safety compared to Bullard and Wiliams. Oladapo profiles more of a traditional safety but shows solid sideline-to-sideline range and the ability to come down and blitz the quarterback. One of Oladapo’s sacks in 2022 came against now-Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams.

Overall, the safety room and defense will be remarkably different. Once Hafley can work with Bullard, Williams, and Oladapo, he’ll probably recognize each player’s aggressive tendency to play downfield and consider that when crafting game plans. Additionally, with Xavier McKinney‘s tutelage leading the backend of the defense, there’s a lot of potential for more big plays for a unit that had the second-fewest interceptions in 2023.

I keep circling back to something Hafley said recently. He wanted players who show their teammates “how much they care about each other and this team by how hard they run to the ball and the effort they give.” As fans see Bullard, Williams, and Oladapo play on the backend, I believe that’s what they’ll start to see on Sundays.

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