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Pre-draft picture: Opportunities abound on Packers' back end

Green Bay has plan in place for how it wants to handle its cornerbacks

Safeties Rudy Ford & Darnell Savage
Safeties Rudy Ford & Darnell Savage

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2023 NFL Draft. The series continues with the secondary.

GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur confirmed at the NFL Annual Meetings that the Packers plan to move forward with Darnell Savage at safety, but there's still another starting post available on Green Bay's back end.

With Adrian Amos unsigned, the Packers have a spot open at safety and several in-house candidates to potentially fill it.

Rudy Ford is the most experienced option after re-signing with the Packers in March. Signed as a special-teams ace in September, Ford wound up playing 442 defensive snaps and making six starts, recording 40 tackles and a career-high three interceptions.

Green Bay also brought in former San Francisco safety Tarvarius Moore as an unrestricted free agent last month. The former third-round pick has 87 career tackles and six passes defensed in 61 regular-season games with 13 starts.

Special-teams stalwart Dallin Leavitt, former seventh-round pick Tariq Carpenter and second-year pro Innis Gaines are also back. Gaines finished last season as Green Bay's slot cornerback in dime, recording six tackles on 44 snaps.

Unequivocally, Savage remains a cornerstone on which Green Bay's back end will be built. The 5-foot-110, 198-pound safety has started 59 regular-season games since the Packers made him the first defensive back selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Savage's nine interceptions are tied with Jaire Alexander for the most in Green Bay's secondary over the past four seasons.

Savage weathered some rough patches last season but was in peak form by year's end. He returned a Kirk Cousin interception for a 75-yard touchdown in a dominant 41-17 win over Minnesota on New Year's Day and led the Packers' defense with 11 tackles and two passes defensed against Detroit in the regular-season finale.

Savage is one of three college safeties the Packers have drafted over the past decade, alongside former All-Pro Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (2014) and Damarious Randall (2015).

Things are more settled at cornerback, where Alexander recaptured his Pro Bowl form after missing most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury. Midway through last season, defensive coordinator Joe Barry began matching Alexander against some of the game's top receivers and the 26-year-old cornerback thrived in a shutdown role.

Alexander led the defense with 14 passes defensed and sniped a career-high five interceptions to earn his second Pro Bowl and second-team AP All-Pro selections. His four INTs in the fourth quarter tied teammate Rasul Douglas for the most in the NFL last season.

Green Bay's secondary was thrown a curveball midseason when 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes was lost for the year due to knee-and-ankle injuries suffered in Detroit. Fortunately, the Packers were able to bump the versatile Douglas out from the slot to the perimeter.

The 6-foot-2, 209-pound cornerback looked more comfortable at his natural outside position and the numbers reflected it. Douglas caught three of his four INTs during Green Bay's final eight games. He finished the season with a career-high 76 tackles and 13 passes defensed.

With Stokes still on the mend, LaFleur told reporters in Arizona last month that the Packers' initial plan calls for Douglas starting on the perimeter and fifth-year veteran Keisean Nixon handling nickel cornerback.

Nixon re-signed with Green Bay in March following a breakout 2022 season that resulted in the former undrafted free agent earning a first-team All-Pro selection at kick returner. A staple on Rich Bisaccia's special teams, Nixon also manned the slot in the nickel and dime sub-packages following Stokes' injury during the second half of the season.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound cornerback played a career-high 289 defensive snaps over 17 games with four starts. Nixon registered 23 tackles and recorded both his first career forced fumble (at Tampa Bay, Week 3) and interception (at Chicago, Week 13) in 2022.

Shemar Jean-Charles and Corey Ballentine provide additional depth at cornerback. Ballentine only played 17 defensive snaps for Green Bay in 2022 but was part of the New York Giants' secondary rotation during his first two NFL seasons.

A fifth-round pick in 2021, Jean-Charles saw action in six games last season but played only three defensive snaps. Green Bay also returns Kiondre Thomas and Benjie Franklin, who both spent time on the team's practice squad. To date, former CFL standout Tyrell Ford is the only outside addition the Packers have made at the position.

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