This Year’s Group of Safeties Give the Green Bay Packers Options


Florida Gators defensive back Matt Elam Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Green Bay Packers take a safety early in the draft? Many have been wondering this since the release of safety Charles Woodson this offseason. This leaves Green Bay very young at the safety position.

The Packers have the reliable Morgan Burnett and youngsters, Jerron McMillan, M.D. Jennings, and Sean Richardson. McMillan and Jennings played admirably last season in Woodson’s absence, rotating in and out. McMillan showed some glimpses of playmaking ability and is the most physical safety on Green Bay’s roster. Jennings proved to be reliable in coverage and consistently good, but not great. Richardson has potential, but was injured last season and still unproven.

The Packers’ youth at the position doesn’t make safety an immediate need this offseason, but Green Bay does need to add depth and competition. The 2013 draft offers one of the deepest groups of safeties in recent memory, which gives the Packers options when addressing the position. Whether they select a safety early or wait until later rounds is difficult to say, but either way, Green Bay will look to the draft to strengthen their defensive backfield.

Here are some safeties Green Bay may be considering this weekend. I broke them into four groups based on scouting reports, projections and rankings by analysts, and where they were placed in various mock drafts. I also attached some of their college highlights if you are interested in seeing some gameday footage of these players.

Texas Longhorns safety Kenny Vaccaro. John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tier I (Mid First Round)

Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, 6-0, 214 pounds  (college highlights)

Most NFL analysts rate Vaccaro as the best safety of this year’s class, but he will be long gone by the time Green Bay picks at 26. Often used in man coverage as a nickel back, Vaccaro may be the most physically gifted and complete safety of the group.

He will likely go in the mid first round to a team like the New York Jets at 13 or Carolina Panthers at 14, but if by some small chance he slips through the cracks and falls to the Packers at 26, Green Bay would get an outstanding cover safety to pair with Burnett in the defensive backfield. Crazier things have happened, but don’t get your hopes up too high.

Tier II (Late First – Mid Second Round)

Eric Reid, LSU, 6-1, 213 pounds (college highlights)

Matt Elam, Florida, 5-10, 208 pounds  (college highlights)

Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International, 6-0, 217 pounds  (college highlights)

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson (3) looks at LSU Tigers safety Eric Reid (1) coming toward him during the BCS National Championship game at the Louisiana Superdome. Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Many debate who will be the better NFL safety between these three. Depending on the source you check, any of these three could be ranked as the second highest safety in this year’s draft.

With teams who also need a safety, like the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, drafting ahead of Green Bay in the first round, it is very likely that either Reid, Elam, or Cyprien will be off the board when it is the Packers’ turn to pick at 26. However, Green Bay will get a chance to select at least one of these safeties at the end of the first round—maybe all three if they’re lucky. Based on my limited knowledge of the draft prospects (and I mean very limited), Eric Reid out of LSU seems to be the safest pick at 26.

Both Elam and Cyprien can fly around the field and lay the wood on people, but Reid seems to be the more reliable player. He has the size and athleticism to play man coverage against big receivers and tight ends, as well as cover deep. He is also a sure tackler and can offer some support against the run.  All three of these players are physical safeties who offer some playmaking ability, and I would be happy with any one of them suiting up in a Packers jersey next season.

However, Green Bay will have to get them in the first round because they won’t last to the end of the second when Green Bay picks again.

Tier III(Late Second – Third Round)

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) runs with the ball against Georgia Southern Eagles safety JJ Wilcox (19) during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

D.J. Swearinger, Southern Carolina, 5-10, 208 pounds  (college highlights)

J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern, 6-0, 213 pounds  (college highlights)

Philip Thomas, Fresno St., 6-0, 208 pounds  (college highlights)

Shawn Williams Georgia, 6-0, 213 pounds  (college highlights)

Maybe the Packers wait until the second or third round to address the safety position. There will still be considerable value at safety beyond the first round and plenty of players that could compete for a starting position on an NFL roster at this point in the draft. Swearinger out of Souther Carolina heads this group of safeties and offers a physical presence and tenacity that would be a great addition to the Packers’ defense.

Wilcox is a bit of a mystery and would make for an interesting pick. He played his first three years of college at receiver and slotback before making the switch to safety his senior year. He also has experience as a kick returner, which showcases his athletic talent.

Reports have come out that Green Bay has shown considerable interest in the safety from Georgia Southern. With Green Bay looking to take Cobb off of special teams this season, maybe Thompson likes Wilcox for his potential at safety and his ability to return kicks.

Philip Thomas of Fresno State. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to Wilcox, Thomas began his college career on the offensive side of the ball before switching to safety his freshmen year. An injury history has dropped Thomas’s draft status, but the safety out of Fresno State can make plays. In 2012, Thomas led the nation in interceptions with eight, returning three for touchdowns.

He also had four sacks and four forced fumbles, proving he can make plays on the field in a variety of ways. Thomas would be a great value pick for Green Bay in the third round and give them a player that could come in and compete with McMillan and Jennings for a starting job.

Tier IV (Fourth – Sixth Round

Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma, 5-11, 213 pounds  (college highlights)

Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse, 5-9, 213 pounds  (college highlights)

T.J. McDonald, USC, 6-2, 219 pounds  (college highlights)

Josh Evans, Florida, 6-1, 207 pounds  (college highlights)

Earl Wolff, N.C. State, 5-11, 209 pound  (college highlights)

UCLA Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince (4) is tackled by Southern California Trojans safety T.J. McDonald (7) and defensive end Devon Kennard (42) as cornerback Hayes Pullard (10) watches at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The remaining safety class offers some players with potential, but these players will need time to develop in order to be effective at the position in the NFL. McDonald out of USC has intriguing size for the position. He played a hybrid safety/linebacker position for the Trojan defense and recorded 112 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

McDonald would be an interesting project pick late in the draft, and could be a special player with some time and development. Jefferson out of Oklahoma is a versatile safety option late in the draft.

He played up at the line and covered both receivers out of the slot and running backs out of the backfield in college. However, Jefferson lacks ideal size and speed for the position, which leads some to speculate that he’ll be better suited as a special teams player and residual backup on an NFL roster.

Maybe the Packers draft a potential starting safety in the first two rounds. Maybe they grab one late in the draft to add depth to the position. Or, maybe they wait and trust that a starter will emerge from who they currently have on the roster.

Only time will tell what Thompson and company will do. As fans, we can only speculate and enjoy the ongoing game that is the NFL draft.