Packers' biggest need is at safety position
APR 23, 2013 5:00a ET
April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
Today: Safeties position preview
April 24: Ted Thompson's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick
TODAY'S POSITION: SAFETIES
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 10
On the roster
Morgan Burnett is the Packers' best safety and will be a starter for many years to come. Still only 24 years old, Burnett has room to grow into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
M.D. Jennings, who went undrafted in 2011, started 10 games for the Packers last season. Jennings has several areas to improve on in order to maintain his status as a starter, but he's come a long way in two years.
Green Bay drafted Jerron McMillian out of Maine last year in the fourth round. With the Packers looking for some players in the secondary who like to make big hits, McMillian fit the bill. He had a very good beginning to his rookie season but eventually fell out of favor. McMillian needs to improve in coverage to stay on the field more often.
Sean Richardson, a tall, athletic player, made the roster last season after going undrafted. He could be a very good player, but he should be considered a project right now who needs time to develop.
Last five safeties drafted
2012 --Jerron McMillian, Maine: fourth round (133rd overall) -- still with the Packers
2010 -- Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech: third round (71st overall) -- still with the Packers
2009 -- Brandon Underwood, Cincinnati: sixth round (187th overall) -- released in 2011, now with the Cowboys
2007 -- Aaron Rouse, Virginia Tech: third round (89th overall) -- released in 2009, in the UFL
2006 -- Tyrone Culver, Fresno State: sixth round (185th overall) -- released in 2008, currently a free agent
Philosophy at the position
Ted Thompson never expected to have to worry about the safety position this soon. He drafted Nick Collins in 2005, who went from a second-round player out of a small college (Bethune-Cookman) to one of the league's best safeties and a three-time Pro Bowl selection by age 27. Then, in Week 2 of the 2011 season, Collins suffered a neck injury. A year ago, the Packers released Collins due to medical concerns and the fear that another hit could cause irreparable damage to his health. Collins has been unable to find another team to sign him, which is a clear sign that the rest of the NFL shared Green Bay's medical opinion.
The Packers drafted McMillian in 2012 to try to help fill Collins' spot while also depending heavily on Jennings. Green Bay's desperate need for a safety was shown when the team hung onto Richardson last season, even though it was highly unlikely he would contribute as an undrafted rookie.
Thompson is still in need of a long-term solution at safety next to Burnett. Though the Packers have several needs, none is bigger than their need at safety.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Kenny Vaccaro, senior, Texas (6-0, 214). Vaccaro is by far the best safety in a class of very good safeties. He's great in coverage and seems to always be in the right spot at the right time. For a Packers secondary that too often has communication issues, Vaccaro would clear some of that up. He's also very good against the run, something that Green Bay's defense needs in order to allow its men up front to play more freely.
It would be a dream scenario for the Packers if Vaccaro fell to No. 26. It would plug a huge gap in Green Bay's defense with a player who is practically a sure thing to succeed in the NFL. His draft projection ranges from the early teens to the mid 20s, so it's possible that he's long gone by the time the Packers are on the clock.
Vaccaro says: "I played both safeties, strong and free. I played nickel. I played dime. In some instances I played corner. We had two great corners, but most of the time I played corner in one on ones in practice."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Matt Elam, junior, Florida (5-10, 208). Elam is also a Day 1 name to remember. If Vaccaro is gone early, Elam comes into play at No. 26. The question, though, is whether Elam slides into the middle-to-late parts of the second round. If he does, the Packers could look to trade up about 10 spots and draft Elam. The only major concern with Elam is his height. Aside from that, he has good speed, was productive at a major college, is good against the run and has the potential to be a playmaker.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
T.J. McDonald, senior, USC (6-2, 219). If the Packers haven't addressed the safety position by the fourth round, look for McDonald's name. He has good size and is decent -- though not great -- against both the run and pass. He's not the instant fix that Vaccaro, Elam or Jonathan Cyprien would be in the early rounds, but McDonald will compete. His dad, Tim McDonald, was an All-Pro safety in the the late 90s, so it's safe to assume he taught his son a thing or two about the position.
FOXSports.com's draft expert Taylor Jones says: "Vaccaro is the only true first-rounder. Cyprien would probably be good early second-round pick. Elam would be great, too. If you can get Cyprien at 55, that would be a good fit. I can see Elam at No. 26. I'm not sure Cyprien is worth it that high. I do like Elam.
"Elam could start from Day 1 for the Packers. He has good coverage skills, good physicality to make up for his lack of size. He is a compact, big-body player. I'm not sure he can cover a speed guy on a deep fly route, so he's best playing center field. He's athletic enough and physical enough to cover the majority of tight ends. I think he's worth a first-round pick."
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