Improved Safety Play Key to Unlocking Packers Defense

Flashback one off-season, and many before – and Packers fans across the internet bemoaned the lack of premium capital used at the inside linebacker position. That was supposed to be the missing link to vault the Packers defense out of mediocrity. Nobody knew it at the time, but the Packers added an All-Pro at the position through free agency.

De’Vondre Campbell was everything Green Bay had been missing. He demonstrated speed go from sideline to sideline, but was also adept dropping into zone coverage. The result – the Packers went from the 17th rated defense by DVOA in 2020, to the 22nd in 2021. The key for them to take the next step for the 2022 season might be through better play from the safety position.

The most obvious opportunity for improvement here comes with Darnell Savage. He was widely viewed as a potential breakout candidate coming into 2021 after a hot finish in 2020. But inconsistent tackling mixed with coverage lapses led to a disappointing season. He graded out at 75.3 per PFF in 2020, that dropped all the way to 58.4 in 2021 (69th/92 safeties). The Packers will have until May 2 to decide whether or not to pick up Savage’s 5th year option for the 2023 season. He has all the physical tools to turn into a play-maker. But that would be a steep price to pay for a player yet to show the consistency needed on the back end of a defense.

There are no such concerns for Savage’s running-mate in Adrian Amos. He once again graded out as a top player at his position. Amos has been perhaps the most reliable player on the Packers defense since he signed in Green Bay. A willing run defender, steady in coverage – he’s been everything the Packers lacked since Nick Collins retirement in 2012. But they have yet to find another player to complement Amos.

Green Bay Packers defense

With Joe Barry’s scheme, having multiple reliable safeties is a necessity. Their dime package this season often had Henry Black, or later in the year even Kevin King, playing a de facto linebacker role. This was another area that teams were able to take advantage of the Packers. Teams were able to create match-up issues by aligning receivers in the backfield.

Black played poorly enough (42.6 PFF grade) to eventually be replaced by King. But this should be another area the Packers look to upgrade through the draft this year. Having a rookie playing primarily in the dime packages is an easy way to acclimate to the NFL, and give them the opportunity to move to a full-time role in 2023 if Green Bay decides to move on from Savage.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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