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Packers Roster Outlook: Tough cuts coming at cornerback & safety

The Packers will have difficult decisions to make in the secondary this September, with several veterans potentially on the chopping block in favor of young draft picks.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Organized Team Activity Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

As we break down the Green Bay Packers’ roster, we turn from the big uglies on offense to the perimeter defenders on the defensive side of the football. The Packers’ defensive backfield is getting a shakeup in terms of coaching responsibilities this year, with Joe Whitt earning a promotion from cornerbacks coach to defensive passing game coordinator. Whitt and secondary coach Jason Simmons will lead a group of young players that got a bit of a boost from some veteran leadership this offseason.

Let’s start our examination of the secondary with the cornerbacks group, a unit that has traditionally consisted of about six players after final cuts over the last half-decade. However, the team has been holding on to more players in recent years at that position. Looking back at the Packers’ initial rosters from the 2017 and 2015 seasons (as published on APC), the week one rosters for those two years each had a whopping seven players at the position. However, this comes with a caveat that we categorized hybrid DB Micah Hyde as a cornerback in 2015 but at safety in 2016.

Assuming the Packers keep six corners at a minimum, there will be some tough calls to make when getting down to the final spot or two.

Locks (4)

Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, Kevin King, Tramon Williams

Williams is already earning constant praise as the consummate veteran of the group, not to mention the fact that Aaron Rodgers has been lauding him for his play throughout OTAs. He’s not going anywhere. Add in the team’s three recent early draft picks and you have a core group of four players to build around.

Good chance (1)

Davon House

House’s return to Green Bay last year yielded mixed results, with a smattering of injuries affecting his play. We saw some of his best work (think back to his interception of Drew Brees) but also some ugly performances. In a rotational capacity, House should continue to be a useful piece, however.

Coin Flip (2)

Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins

Pipkins impressed late in his rookie year, showing some fight and energy late in the season when the Packers were playing meaningful football. Based on 2017 play, he’s probably the early leader for the sixth spot, even though Hawkins has more experience and speed on his side. Those qualities should keep Hawkins very much in the mix, however.

Tough road ahead (4)

Donatello Brown, Demetri Goodson, Quinten Rollins, Herb Waters

After the top seven, there’s another tier entirely, which consists of four players who barely saw any snaps at all in 2017 for one reason or another. Brown was the only one who remained healthy, but after earning minimal playing time as a 26-year-old rookie, it’s tough to see him unseating the likes of Pipkins. The other three all dealt with season-ending injuries, with Goodson injuring a hamstring after coming back from a torn ACL. Waters was reportedly coming on last summer before a shoulder injury shut him down for the year, while Rollins played poorly before an injury of his own. Any one of them could have a terrific surge in training camp, but based on the current situation, they would need to do so in order to make the roster.

Although the Packers have a host of highly-valued, young options at cornerback, the safety position is drastically different. Only two players on the roster were even drafted, with the other four entering the league as undrafted free agents. Look for Green Bay to keep no fewer than four safeties — that was the magic number from 2013 through 2015, although they had six (including hybrid CB/S Micah Hyde) in 2016 and five last season.

Locks (2)

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Josh Jones

Clinton-Dix enters his fifth year in the NFL — the team option year for a first-round pick. After living up to that billing early in his career, particularly in 2016, he scuffled badly in 2017 and will need a big rebound in order to cash in as a free agent next season.

Jones, meanwhile, is focusing more heavily on the safety position after playing a great deal of Nitro linebacker over the first half-season a year ago. These two presumed starters aren’t going anywhere, certainly not with questions behind them.

Almost a lock (1)

Kentrell Brice

Brice is all but assured of a spot, barring some complete collapse in training camp. However, he should not be seen as being so far ahead of the young players behind him that he’s invincible if he does go through a serious rough patch. Brice brings a thump from the safety position, but can be caught out of position; he’ll need to clean up his reads a bit to keep the Packers comfortable with using him as a regular contributor.

Fighting for one or two spots (3)

Marwin Evans, Raven Greene, Jermaine Whitehead

The Packers’ depth at safety behind the top three players is fairly unimpressive; in fact, I’m betting on Greene being one of the UDFA rookies who makes the roster out of camp. Whitehead pulled ahead of Evans over the second half of the season, earning more snaps as the Oak Creek, WI native struggled with his coverage responsibilities. If the Packers keep five, I’ll take Greene and Whitehead for now, but a 7 CB/4 S split seems like a very plausible scenario for week one.