This is the seventh and final story in a series examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. The series concludes with the defensive backs.
GREEN BAY – There are opportunities aplenty in a Packers secondary looking to shore up communication and move forward after a challenging 2017 season.
Green Bay must replace two of its leaders in defensive snaps – safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Damarious Randall – but has no shortage of options with 14 defensive backs on the roster and the 2018 NFL Draft on tap.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix feels ready and able to help fill the leadership void created by Burnett’s departure. The fifth-year safety recorded 79 tackles and three interceptions last season, but still expected more from himself after being named second-team All-Pro on the heels of a five-INT campaign in 2016.
Clinton-Dix hasn’t missed a game since the Packers drafted him in the first round out of Alabama in 2014 and has made 65 consecutive starts dating back to Week 7 of his rookie season.
With Burnett now in Pittsburgh, the Packers have four safeties – Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead – vying for expanded roles in the defense.
Jones was the beneficiary of Burnett playing most of last season near the line of scrimmage. A second-round pick out of N.C. State last year, Jones started seven of the 16 games he played as a rookie. In 730 defensive snaps, Jones finished the season with 71 tackles, two sacks and a critical interception to set up a 27-21 overtime win in Cleveland.
Brice started the season at strong safety in Green Bay’s dime sub-package before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve Nov. 3. The former undrafted free agent finished with 23 tackles and an interception in six games with three starts.
Whitehead, a midseason call-up from the practice squad, saw some action late in the season as a slot cornerback in the Packers’ sub-packages, recording 11 tackles in 10 games.
Evans, a native of Milwaukee, played 147 defensive snaps, but made his biggest impact on Green Bay’s special teams, where his 14 coverage tackles were eight more than anyone else on the roster.
Meanwhile, the situation remains fluid at cornerback after the Packers dealt Randall to Cleveland in March. Afterward, Green Bay re-signed a pair of veterans, Davon House and Tramon Williams, to help provide depth and leadership in a relatively young position room.
Williams started nine games for Arizona last season, recording 41 tackles and four interceptions despite barely playing the first month of the season. At 35, Williams feels he still has plenty of elite football in him, and provides ample experience playing both on the boundary and in the slot.
Green Bay also is looking for growth from its young cornerbacks, including four who finished last season on injured reserve: Kevin King (shoulder), Quinten Rollins (Achilles), Demetri Goodson (hamstring) and Herb Waters (shoulder).
King, the 33rd overall pick in last year’s draft, got off to a strong start to his rookie season before a lingering shoulder injury eventually required season-ending surgery.
Offseason reports have been promising on the 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback, who matched up against the likes of Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant in five starts as a rookie.
Rollins, a second-round pick in 2015, has 91 tackles, 16 passes defensed and three interceptions in 33 regular-season games with 15 starts. He was coming off a six-tackle performance against Dallas on Oct. 8 before tearing his Achilles tendon the following week in Minnesota.
There also are three former undrafted free agents – Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown – looking to cement their place on the roster.
Hawkins, a third-year veteran out of East Carolina, had 38 tackles and six deflections in 15 games with three starts last season. The Packers also remain high on the potential of Pipkins, who recorded 15 tackles and a pass deflection after being the only position player to make the initial 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie.