With Jeff Hafley's arrival, the Green Bay Packers will see a noticeable shift in defensive identity. Nowhere will this be more apparent than at the safety position.
Hafley's defense is built around single-high coverages, and he relies on having a traditional free safety and strong safety pairing. This is a radical departure from Joe Barry's scheme that prized versatility in its safeties and relied on them being able to play in multiple spots effectively.
This was already a position of need for Green Bay entering the offseason, with seventh-round rookie Anthony Johnson Jr. the only safety under contract for 2024 who surpassed 15 snaps in 2023.
So, which players might be of interest? Here are four prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft who could fit the new-look Packers defense.
4 safeties the Packers could target in the 2024 NFL Draft
Tyler Nubin, Minnesota
- 6-2, 210 pounds
- RS Senior
- Free safety
- Round 2 projection
Regarded by many analysts as the top safety in the 2024 class (The Athletic's Dane Brugler recently had him going at No. 40 in his two-round mock draft), Nubin is going to be a name that Packers fans should familiarise themselves with this season.
A free safety who has four years of starting experience in the Big Ten, Nubin is battle-tested and has some of the best coverage tape you'll find at the position. The numbers tell the story. Per PFF, he has allowed a completion rate of just 34.5% in his career. He has 13 interceptions to his name and has forced an incompletion on 29.8% of his career targets.
Nubin needs to work on his pursuit angles when coming downhill against the run and does have some issues mirroring in single coverage, but he'd give Green Bay a talented ball-hawk on the back end of their defense.
Calen Bullock, USC
- 6-3, 190 pounds
- Free safety
- Round 2 projection
Another potential option in the second round is USC's Calen Bullock. The true junior started six games for the Trojans as a freshman in 2021 and has started every game in the two years since. He has shown the ability to move around the formation, but he's at his best working as a free safety in space.
Bullock's biggest asset is his well-rounded athletic profile. He showcases impressive short-area quickness, while also having the range you need to be able to cover sideline-to-sideline as a centre-field safety.
In addition to his athleticism, Bullock offers some of the best ball production in the 2024 class, with 24 forced incompletions in his three seasons of college football. He is a little on the skinny side, but he has tantalizing upside that could prove very tempting for Green Bay.
Jaden Hicks, Washington State
- 6-3, 213 pounds
- RS Sophomore
- Box safety
- Round 3 projection
Hicks is another smart option if the Packers want to secure their box safety of the future. The former Washington State man has earned comparisons to Kyle Dugger thanks to his impressive combination of size, strength, and athletic ability. He has plenty of experience playing near the line of scrimmage, too, with his 456 box snaps ranking third among all FBS safeties in 2023.
One aspect of Hicks' game that might well appeal to the Packers' coaching staff and fanbase alike is his prowess as a run defender. He is quick to trigger and get downhill and logged 24 run stops in 2023, the seventh-most of any Power Five safety.
Hicks' football intelligence shows up in coverage, too. In his final season of college football, he allowed just 184 yards in his 12 starts and gave up a single completion over 20 yards. He doesn't necessarily have high-end long speed, but he is more than athletic enough for a box-heavy role in the NFL.
James Williams, Miami
- 6-4, 230 pounds
- Box safety
- Round 4 projection
Williams doesn't necessarily fit the mold for prospects that the Packers have typically gone after, but with a new scheme, they may well be willing to change their approach. Williams was a highly-touted recruit, being rated as a five-star prospect and the No. 1 safety in the 2021 class. The first thing you notice about him is his imposing size. He recently weighed in at 6-4 and 230 pounds at the Senior Bowl and saw reps at linebacker in Mobile.
He has three years of starting experience under his belt at Miami, where he earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in college football. Williams pairs this with some legitimate explosiveness, and he is a menace coming downhill in run support.
He also flashed some nice ball skills during his time with the Hurricanes, logging 13 forced incompletions on 83 career targets and surrendering a passer rating of just 87.3. He isn't the twitchiest or most dynamic player in space, but if Hafley wants a tone-setter at the heart of his defense, Williams gives them that.