"What a difference a year can make," or so the saying goes.
At this same time one year ago, the safety position was the biggest question mark for the Green Bay Packers on defense. After a year of M.D. Jennings starting opposite Morgan Burnett, the Packers and their fans alike were ready to turn the page and rebuild the position in hopes of finding the next Nick Collins or even LeRoy Butler.
The team retained Burnett, who had a year prior signed a lucrative deal to stay in Green Bay. Jennings had to be replaced as he was not offered another contract in one of the least shocking offseason developments in recent memory. In his place, the Packers selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a safety from Alabama in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
As a result, the Packers saw a dramatic improvement at the position last season. For the first time in nearly two years, a Packer safety made an interception. The position was no longer a liability.
Green Bay is so confident with its current players, it added no new players at the position (2015 first round pick Damarious Randall is being converted to a corner after playing safety in college).
Here is how the Packers stack up at safety heading into training camp.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
H/w: 6’1", 208
NFL seasons: 1
2014 stats: 92 tackles, one sack, one interception
Contract status: Second year of a four year rookie contract worth $8.3 million; 2015 cap hit of $1,895,114
Clinton-Dix had a unique situation heading into his rookie year as many hoped he’d be the savior of the secondary after horrendous safety play in 2013. Yet anything would certainly be better than Jennings. It was a strange mix of high and low expectations.
He had his share of lumps as most rookies do despite his first career interception in Week 3, but Clinton-Dix saw the game begin to slow for him later on in the season. He finished the season second on the team in tackles with 92. He was nowhere near the liability in coverage that Jennings was either.
Clinton-Dix must remain healthy first and foremost but also may make that second year "jump" most coaches talk about. He’s shown he isn’t afraid to play center field or near the line of scrimmage and the potential he showed as a rookie should continue to develop in 2015.
H/w: 6’1" 209
College: Georgia Tech
2014 stats: 130 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble
Contract Status: third year of a five-year contract worth $26 million; 2015 cap hit of $5,131,250
Burnett play suffered badly in 2013 when working alongside Jennings. That kind of play had to be alarming to the Packers, but it also showed Burnett plays best with a competent free safety beside him.
Enter Clinton-Dix and you get a resurgent Burnett in 2014. He had a big interception in the NFC Championship game last season despite the game’s ultimate outcome (yes he should have kept running) and was a solid presence all season for the Packers beside their rookie learning the ropes.
In 2015, Burnett must strive for consistency. With Clinton-Dix poised to have a potential breakout season, Burnett should continue to improve and help solidify what was once the weakest position on the Green Bay defense.
H/w: 6’2" 216 lbs
2014 stats: 42 tackles
Contract Status: One-year contract worth $2.25 million (matched offer from the Oakland Raiders)
Richardson made the Packers as an underrated free agent in 2012 and some looked at him as perhaps yet another Ted Thompson diamond in the rough find.
He didn’t play much on defense, but Richardson was one of the best performers on an otherwise awful special teams unit. The Packers obviously had this in mind when they decided to match the Raiders’ offer sheet on Richardson.
Richardson is a decent backup but much like Jarrett Bush before him, he does not exactly inspire confidence in terms of being a long term answer at the position should Burnett or Clinton-Dix go down.
He’s here for special team reasons first and foremost and that could potentially place him on the bubble, but the Packers like him which should have him making the final roster
H/w: 5’10" 207
College: Southern Methodist
2014 stats: 1 tackle
Contract status: One-year contract worth $585,000, exclusive rights free agent in 2016
Banjo was a bit of a training camp sensation a couple years ago, but that did not lead to him making the final roster. Instead, he was relegated to the practice squad for most of the year until Week 15 when he was promoted to the active roster after Jamari Lattimore was lost with a sprained ankle.
With Richardson and Micah Hyde solidly listed as backups, Banjo will again be tasked with special teams duty. Banjo does not have enough accrued time, so another year on the practice squad is possible but don’t be surprised if he ends up being cut during camp.
H/w: 6’0" 205
2014 stats: (none)
Contract status: second year of a three-year contract worth $960,000; 2015 cap hit of $525,000
Fanor is a former Arena League player for the Tampa Bay Storm who was signed to the Green Bay practice squad in December. He also attended the same school as Nick Collins.
Fanor is a long shot to make the roster but a return to the practice squad is not out of the question. Stranger things have happened, but Fanor faces incredible odds at a suddenly deep position