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Packers 2018 Roster Grades: At least it can only get better from here at safety

The back end of the secondary was a disaster last season.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Over a two week span, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2018 season. Today, we examine the safeties.

In a disappointing season for the Packers, I think the most disappointing spot would have to be the safety position. It was a position where there was high turnover after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was traded, and the Packers proved that they have no high end prospects or even high quality players at the position right now.

The season started off with Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice as the main starters. Mike Pettine would also start Jermaine Whitehead along with those two depending on the opponent. To show the turnover at the position, two of those weren’t even with the team the last half of the year.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

7 games, 7 starts
27 total tackles (24 solo), 1.0 sack; 3 interceptions, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble

Clinton-Dix was easily the best player at safety this year and that’s not saying much. The crazy stat is that he still lead the team at the end of the season with three interceptions while only playing the first seven games before being traded. In the best safety move of the season, Brian Gutekunst saw the writing on the wall that Clinton-Dix was not going to be an option for the future and basically stole a 4th round pick in the 2019 draft from Washington. To justify the trade, Clinton-Dix continued to struggle mightily in Washington and even lost favor and playing time with the coaching staff by the end of the year.

Jermaine Whitehead

7 games played, 2 starts
20 total tackles (18 solo), 1.0 sack; 2 passes defended

Whitehead went into the season as a possible young piece for the future. He ended up not fitting well within the Mike Pettine system and struggled in coverage. His best aspect was being decent in coming up and making tackles, often lining up at inside linebacker in sub packages. However, the Packers already had someone that plays like that in Kentrell Brice. General manager Brian Gutekunst waived Whitehead on November 6th (potentially related to him throwing a punch and being ejected from the game against the Patriots), and he was quickly snapped up by Cleveland.

After jettisoning Clinton-Dix and Whitehead, the Packers safety roster was set for the rest of the season. Let’s take a look at who was left.

Tramon Williams

16 games played, 16 starts (9 at safety)
Total stats: 54 total tackles (40 solo); 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery
Stats in final 9 games: 29 total tackles (20 solo); 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

After the Packers’ young corners played well enough to earn starting roles and a majority of the playing time and once Clinton-Dix was traded, Tramon Williams flipped to the free safety spot. While he wasn’t anything spectacular, he definitely brought a veteran presence, some stability and showed his team-first mentality through the process.

Williams showed that he could use his cornerback skills at tracking the ball in coverage and wasn’t afraid to come up and make a tackle either. The most memorable in those instances came in his first game at safety against New England. Tom Brady quickly tested Williams with an underneath crossing route to open the deep ball. Williams took one step to the cross routes before adjusting to double team and get a pass break up to Josh Gordon on the deep ball. That play usually would have been a touchdown the first seven games.

Williams also made a memorable tackle on James White at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Williams was in the box and tracked White across the field to the left side. He made a beautiful solo tackle and stopped White at the one-yard line. White did score two plays later but it showed something that no other safety showed all year: instincts.

Williams was definitely the bright spot of the safety position and is under contract for one more year but will he be an option for 2019? He still has the coverage skills and is not afraid to make a tackle. However, he will be 36 when the season starts and the Packers might want to go for a younger player. He also has a $6.375 million salary and that could be an issue but it will all depend on where Brian Gutekunst sees his priorities. There are some top notch safeties available in Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, Lamarcus Joyner and Adrian Amos who will all command salaries higher than Williams. If Gutekunst makes a play for one of those, Williams could be a casualty to help offset the cost.

Kentrell Brice

14 games played, 10 starts
50 total tackles (40 solo), 1.0 sack; 2 passes defended

The thinking of using Kentrell Brice alongside HaHa Clinton-Dix to start the year had to be pairing Brice’s tackling ability with Clinton-Dix’s coverage skills. Those were considered the strengths of each while their weakness was coverage for Brice and tackling for Clinton-Dix. Needless to say, it all turned into a weakness for Brice.

I will give Brice credit that he was not afraid to come up and try to deliver a big hit. The key word there was try. These tries would generally make his technique horrible and it seemed that he would miss more tackles and big hits than he would make. Just frequently seeing him come up to make a tackle and see him duck his head still makes me cringe.

In coverage, he just looked lost. He would regularly bite on play action or get caught watching quarterback rather than paying attention to his keys. When he would bite on play action, he was slow to recover and was always late on his help over the top. When he would get caught in man coverage, it wouldn’t take much effort for the receiver to shake him.

Where does that leave Brice for 2019? He is a restricted free agent, so stay tuned for a more detailed description of his future this afternoon.

Josh Jones

13 games played, 5 starts
55 total tackles (40 solo), 1.0 sack; 2 passes defended

I think a general consensus is forming as to the play of Josh Jones and it sums up the play of the entire safety group. What is going on here? Jones has been polarizing during his first two years in Green Bay. He came into his rookie year and played fairly well. You could tell there was going to be a learning curve with Jones but he showed some promise near the line of scrimmage. He especially looked good as one of the hybrid type safeties that could play the linebacker position in certain situations.

The expectations for Jones in 2019 only grew and then we were all left wondering. Jones was noticeably absent as he couldn’t even get into games on special teams until week three against Buffalo. There has to be something to that. I’m not sure if he could not pick up Mike Pettine’s defense and got into his bad graces early but that shouldn’t excuse him from playing special teams.

Jones started gradually getting snaps on defense in week four against Detroit and ended up eventually getting five starts at safety on the season. Most of these were due to injury replacement from several of the free agents that were signed throughout the year. So Jones never really got back into the good graces but he did start gaining confidence from the coaching staff.

With that being said, when Jones played, he was productive. He ended up playing in 13 games and logged 55 tackles, a sack and a couple pass deflections. By no means is this a high caliber season but he was gaining more experience and getting more and more snaps as the weeks went on, which is a positive.

Jones had a decent finish to the season and needs to build on that this offseason. The Packers have a massive hole to fill at safety and Jones will figure to be competing for a starting spot in 2019. He is a very good athlete and needs to work on getting on the field on special teams one way or another too. He is too good to be wasting away on the sidelines. Jones is locked up for two more seasons and needs to have a great offseason to get back to being a high end prospect at safety.

Ibraheim Campbell and Eddie Pleasant

Campbell stats: 3 games played, 1 start; 18 total tackles (15 solo), 1 forced fumble
Pleasant stats: 5 games played, 1 start; 7 total tackles (4 solo)

I’m placing these two together as they had similar seasons. Both were veterans who were brought in as a result of injuries and poor play midway through the season.

Ibraheim Campbell was claimed off waivers on November 5th, shortly after the Ha Ha Clinton-Dix trade. He was attractive to the Packers due to his past experiences with Mike Pettine in Cleveland. Campbell jumped into limited playing time in his second week as a Packer. He filled in nicely in his short stint and had his best game of the season when he started in week 13 against the Cardinals where he tallied eight tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble. Unfortunately, he was injured in that game and was placed on injured reserve shortly after.

Eddie Pleasant was signed on November 28, two weeks after being cut by the Cardinals. In his first action of the season, against his former team, Pleasant dropped a would-be interception that would’ve stopped the Cardinals final drive of the game. As we all know, the drop led to the Cardinals kicking a field goal that would go on to win the game and be the final nail in the Mike McCarthy coffin. Pleasant would go on to start one game and play in five others for the Packers. His stats were minimal, gaining eight tackles and one tackle for loss.

Both players are free agents going into 2019 and the Packers could possibly bring one of them back. I think it’s pretty obvious which could be coming back but check out my free agency article a little later today for my thoughts.

Raven Greene

8 games played; 5 total tackles (4 solo), 1.0 sack; 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defended

Raven Greene was an undrafted free agent out of James Madison in 2018. He made the initial 53-man roster to start the season. He gained his footing and started being a fixture on special teams in week three. In week nine, he started getting more reps at the safety position and finished the season with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. Like several of the safeties, he ended the season on injured reserve on December 8th after an ankle injury in week eleven.

Overall Grade: F

The high turnover and lack of consistency where too much for the Packers to overcome at the safety position. On a positive note, the Packers were able to get something for HaHa Clinton-Dix before he would have walked away in free agency and they cut bait with Jermaine Whitehead as he was too similar of a player to Kentrell Brice. On the negative side, the Packers only have an aging veteran in Tramon Williams at safety right now. While the others have some experience, they are raw rookies or veterans that haven’t quite found their footing in the NFL yet.

Safety needs to be a major concern for Brian Gutekunst going into the offseason. There are a lot of talented, high priced free agents out there and it’ll be interesting to see if Gutekunst makes a play for one of them. While the draft is doesn’t have a standout player at the safety spot, there are some intriguing options such as Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp and Amani Hooker just to name a few.