Safety Morgan Burnett will be Green Bay's last line of defense, and he has inexperience around him.
By PAUL IMIG FS Wisconsin
Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers' success in the 2013 season. Check back each day to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player's position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
Charles Woodson and Nick Collins both being released in the past 15 months, the role of
Morgan Burnett has become much more critical to the success of the Green Bay Packers. Burnett will be the last line of defense in the secondary next to young safeties
Jerron McMillian and
M.D. Jennings, neither of whom have yet to prove that they can be full-time starters on a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Burnett has started all 16 games over the past two seasons and has been consistently effective. In 2012, Burnett led the team in tackles (123) and forced fumbles (two). He also had two interceptions and two sacks while playing more snaps than anyone on Green Bay's defense. Those numbers are one way of displaying just how well-rounded Burnett's game is. He does everything at a fairly high level.
Burnett is No. 10 on this list for all of those reasons, but also because the Packers need him to take on an increased role this upcoming season. Leadership and on-field production will both be part of that. Burnett will have to be a steady force at safety to help take pressure off of McMillian and Jennings. If those two players are brought along slowly, it will help their development. Some of that depends on how much responsibility Burnett will be able to take on.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
Burnett is already a good safety. He has the talent and potential of becoming a Pro Bowl safety. It helps that Burnett will still only be 24 years old when the 2013 regular season concludes. As a comparison, Burnett is just three months older than McMillian, despite two more years in the league. That's one indication that Green Bay has not seen the best of what Burnett will be able to do.
The expectation for Burnett this upcoming season is that he takes that big step forward now. He's on the last year of his rookie contract and will only make $1.32 million in 2013. Rookie contracts are set up that way for a reason for third-round picks like Burnett, but that is significantly less than what he'll be worth a year from now, even if his play stays at its current level. The Packers are undoubtedly going to re-sign Burnett at some point, but for how much money? That could depend largely on how well he performs, but it's not as if Green Bay has a backup option ready at the moment without Burnett.
It's true of all NFL players, but Burnett also needs to stay healthy. He played in only four games as a rookie in 2010 after tearing his ACL and played much of the 2011 season with a large club on his broken right hand. The Packers can't afford to have Burnett sidelined.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Safety is one of the thinnest positions on Green Bay's roster. Burnett is a guaranteed starter while Jennings and McMillian will battle for the other spot.
There is not much depth behind those three. The most likely scenario if Burnett gets injured would be McMillian and Jennings as the two starters. The Packers decided not to draft a safety this year and will rely on a couple very inexperienced players as the backups.
Sean Richardson made the team in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, but he had offseason neck surgery and could be brought back at a slow pace. Green Bay signed undrafted free agent David Fulton during minicamp, but he has a lot of catching up to do if he's going to make the team. Also, to clear up any possible confusion, the Packers did not draft
Micah Hyde in the fifth round to play safety. Green Bay wants Hyde working with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and to train exclusively at that position.
Based on all of this, it should be very apparent how important Burnett will be in whether the Packers have a successful 2013 season.