After using a second-round pick on safety Josh Jones, whose snaps will the Green Bay Packers’ rookie take?
Ted Thompson’s selection of safety Josh Jones in the second round of this year’s draft initially seemed strange.
Morgan Burnett is one of the best strong safeties in the NFL, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix just made his first Pro Bowl in his third season in the league.
Teams don’t typically draft players in the second round with the intention of them riding the bench.
Thompson drafted Jason Spriggs in the second round last year despite two stalwart tackles in Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. That pick, though, came after the Packers saw the disastrous consequences of a Bakhtiari injury when Don Barclay had to step in in 2015.
There was no obvious need for a backup safety given the promising play of undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice late last season.
So whose snaps will Josh Jones take, in this year and in years to come?
Jones won’t play extensive snaps right away (very few Packers rookie do), but he’ll likely see the field regularly by the time the postseason rolls around.
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The question boils down to how Dom Capers thinks he can get the Packers’ best 11 players on the field. Jones played safety at North Carolina State, but that doesn’t mean that his Packers career will be limited to the defensive backfield.
One immediate reaction to the Jones pick was that he could possibly be a replacement for the recently departed Micah Hyde, another versatile defensive back. But while Dom Capers used Hyde as a combination between safety and nickel back, Jones has little experience at corner.
Jones is an exceptional athlete who along with Kevin King will directly combat the Packers’ lack of defensive speed that so ailed them in last year’s postseason. He’s 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, and runs the 40-yard dash in a stellar 4.41 seconds.
That’s two inches taller than Brice, 20 pounds heavier, and only .03 seconds slower.
Interestingly, MockDraftable.com lists former Packers safety Sean Richardson as a 97.7 percent athletic match for Jones.
Before his career-ending neck injury, the Packers had begun using a package where Richardson played linebacker. Given their similar physical profiles and the fact that Jones has been working at linebacker (and impressing) in OTA’s, it’s logical that Jones could play a Richardson-like role in his rookie year as a passing down linebacker.
But there’s one problem: that’s where Morgan Burnett began playing last year. Last year, the Packers began playing Burnett extensively as a linebacker on passing downs, substituting Brice into Burnett’s safety spot.
Burnett won’t be coming off the field. He’s a seven-year veteran with an unsurpassed understanding of Dom Capers’ scheme. That savvy combined with good size athleticism allows him to alternate between linebacker and safety without a hiccup.
If he’s to play linebacker, then, that would mean removing Brice from the field and moving Burnett back to safety. If he’s to play safety, that would mean keeping Burnett at linebacker and still replacing Brice.
No matter which way it goes, there will be less snaps available for Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas.
But what about after this season, when Burnett’s contract expires?
Ian Kenyon of Bleacher Report thinks that Jones could step right into Burnett’s position after the Packers let #42 walk in free agency.
Ted Thompson certainly has not made up his mind yet on Burnett’s 2018 fate. But with the pick of Jones, he gave the team leverage and flexibility.
If Jones impresses, then the Packers won’t be forced to resign Burnett. They may (and should) still attempt to, but they won’t be stuck between overpaying for a somewhat older player or leaving the defense without a replacement.
It’s certainly too early to tell anything for certain. But this year, expect Jones to work extensively at linebacker and to indirectly compete with Brice for playing time in passing situations.
Regardless of the position, Jones’ size and speed will be welcome additions to the Packers’ defense. And if he earns the coaches’ trust, he could eventually pair with Clinton-Dix as a starting safety.