Over a two-week span, we at Acme Packing Company are breaking down the Green Bay Packers’ 2017 roster and looking ahead to the free agency period in 2018. Today, we address the safety position.
After announcing they planned to play more sub-package with Morgan Burnett as a de facto linebacker, the Green Bay Packers drafted Josh Jones, a safety out of N.C. State, and immediately proclaimed he was going to play linebacker.
Injuries to Kentrell Brice and Burnett forced Jones into a more traditional role as a safety and the results were mixed.
How acquired: Second-round pick (61st overall)
Contract: 4 years, $4.23 million
2017 Stats: 16 games played, 7 starts; 67 total tackles, 56 solo, 2.0 sacks; 1 interception, 5 passes defended; 890 defensive snaps (69.6% of team total), 155 special teams snaps (36.6%)
Jones broke out against the Cincinnati Bengals with 12 tackles, three TFLs and a pair of sacks, but never came close to matching that production afterward.
The major reason was usage. Against the Bengals, Morgan Burnett played in the slot, Jones played linebacker and safety, and Marwin Evans played the other deep safety role.
Always around the action, Jones utilized his speed and instincts to make plays all over the field, in coverage, in the run game and as a blitzer.
Injuries to Burnett and Kentrell Brice, and Marwin Evans losing favor with the coaching staff for reasons that never became clear, forced Jones to play deep more often.
Perhaps that ought to be rephrased: Dom Capers forced Jones to play out of position for the rest of the season, robbing him of his ability to be effective.
One of the way to mitigate the learning curve of a player, or to use an athlete who struggles to read and react (not that Jones has this issue but he’s a rookie, so it’s only natural), is to put him near the line of scrimmage.
Instead, Capers put Jones deep where he’s having to read more of the field and take on more responsibility in the passing game.
This never should have been how he was used. It’s not where he excelled in college and not where his explosiveness makes him most effective.
When used in man coverage, Jones showed proficiency against tight ends and backs. But in zone coverage as a deep safety, he played out of position and get beat regularly as the season went along.
That said, Jones was 22nd in run stop percentage, a stat that measures how often a player stops a play from being productive on a per snap basis. He was 23rd (ahead of Morgan Burnett) in run stop percentage when lined up in the box, ahead of other top safeties like Malcolm Jenkins.
That’s where he thrives.
Tackling was also a strong point. He finished 13th in tackling efficiency (it’s worth pointing out Burnett was No. 1) with just six missed tackles all season according to Pro Football Focus.
On the other hand, Jones posted a 113.9 quarterback rating when targeting and allowed the second-most yards per coverage snap in football.
This was always going to be his biggest weakness and yet the Packers leaned into it, rather than attempting to mitigate it by positional usage.
Even once Burnett got back to full health, Jones either wasn’t on the field — in favor of Jake Ryan for reasons that aren’t at all clear — or was playing safety with Burnett playing in the box.
Jones showed his instincts and playing around the line of scrimmage. That’s where he was always going to shine. He struggled in coverage, particularly deep, where he was always going to have problems, especially as a rookie.
He wasn’t the impact playmaker he appeared to be in rookie camp, but players rarely are.
That said, better deployment under Mike Pettine could see his physical tools maximized and his role designed more specifically to his strengths.