The headliners on the league’s most ferocious defense draw the adulation. Khalil Mack indelibly altered the Chicago Bears’ defensive paradigm. Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson are the burgeoning superstars. Akiem Hicks is the perenially underrated guy everyone says is underrated which means he’s probably properly rated at this point.
No one on the NFL’s top scoring defense played more snaps in 2019 than Adrian Amos, who was on the field for 97% of the time that Chicago defense was pulverizing opponents. His flexibility allowed Eddie Jackson to roam the middle of the field. His instincts and speed in coverage eased the burden on Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. He’s precisely the kind of player the Packers needed.
The numbers won’t jump out at you. He has three interceptions in his career and has never been a tackle machine. A PFWA All-Rookie Team serves as his only real accolades in the NFL even if he probably should have been a Pro Bowler the last two seasons. But that part of Amos’ game, the facet that allows him to go unrecognized, is a feature not a bug. His versatility allows the players around him to thrive. He’s always in the right position so even if someone else isn’t, he’s there to clean up the mess. Amos brings thunder in his shoulder pads, but he’s not recklessly going for kill shots. He’ll break up a pass at the catch point, but isn’t going to gamble to hunt interceptions.
According to Pro Football Focus, Amos played 62.5% of his snaps at free safety last season, undercutting the pervasive and erroneous notion he’s a box-only safety. His ability to diagnose route concepts and attack the ball in the air offer a playmaking ability currently lacking in the Packers defense. Yet the fact he spent nearly 40% of his time playing somewhere other than deep also underscores his versatility. This isn’t the guy to put on Travis Kelce in single coverage in the slot all game, but he can manage in man coverage, thrives as a deep safety, and is an imposing force as an overhang defender.
Given the money being shelled out to Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Amos combined, let’s assume for the moment the Packers make no other moves at safety. Amos fits with the guys already on the roster in a way many of the other free agents simply didn’t. To get him for around $9 million per year when he’s a more well-rounded player than guys who got 50% more money, should be considered outstanding team building for the Packers’ front office.
Landon Collins is a box player who got the bag on a six-year deal for $84 million. The Packers have Josh Jones to play that linebacker/safety hybrid position. Tyrann Mathieu and LeMarcus Joyner also got sizable deals to be roving cover pieces but neither have proven to be particularly impactful, making those risky contracts.
Tramon Williams fits best as a deep safety who can rely on his intelligence, instincts, and ball skills. Right now, he’s set to be paid $6 million to be one of the team’s starting safeties. Josh Jones should return to his role as roving overhang defender who can play in the box and does decently well in man coverage. His biggest problem is that as a deep safety, he struggles to read-and-react, mitigating the great speed he has in space. If you don’t know where to be, it’s a lot harder to get there in a hurry.
Enter Amos, a player who excels at precisely those things Jones lacks, can play deep, and will still fill in the run game where Tramon shouldn’t be consistently asked to tackle running backs. Pettine will have the flexibility to use Williams and Jones only in the roles to which they are best suited because Amos can do it all.
And at just 25 years old (turning 26 in April), Amos can be the future of this defense as well. Given the murky future of Josh Jones and the ticking clock with Williams, if the Packers draft a safety, the likely long-term pairing will be with Amos. Signing him now means the rookie can play in spots, rather than being forced into a major role in Year 1, a reality that pushed back Jones’ development even to this moment.
Such enormous defensive investments could push Brian Gutekunst to look toward the offense in the draft as well, moving safety down the list of priorities. A third or fourth-round safety would require more time to develop and signing Amos provides the necessary adjustment period before he can be an impact player.
The Packers didn’t just find a good safety to plug into their defense. They found the perfect safety to fill a specific hole which in this case, ironically, is the ability to do it all. Amos can make Williams and Jones better by allowing them to do what they’re best at, while providing a buffer and potential future pairing for a rookie safety if the Packers pick one.
Much like in Chicago, the pass rushers will get the headlines in Green Bay’s free agent splurge, but the best pure player they added is Amos.