Packers Annual Checkup: S Jerron McMillian

Today is the 31st day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Wednesday, Feb. 27: S Jerron McMillian
Thursday, Feb. 28: OLB Dezman Moses
Friday, March 1: DE Mike Neal
Saturday, March 2: WR Jordy Nelson

Sunday, March 3: OT Marshall Newhouse
Monday, March 4: OLB Nick Perry
Tuesday, March 5: DT Ryan Pickett
Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season, two postseason); 28 tackles, five missed tackles, one interception, zero forced fumbles, five passes defensed; played 48.8 percent of defensive snaps
Best game: Week 2 win over Chicago (one interception, two tackles, zero missed tackles, one stop; played 44 of 63 defensive snaps; season-best 3.6 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 17 loss at Minnesota (two tackles, one missed tackle, allowed both passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught for a total of 27 yards; played 27 of 71 defensive snaps; season-worst minus-3.2 PFF rating) season rating: 1.9 (No. 10 out of 23 on Packers defense)
Expectations at the start of the season: Low
Expectations were … Met
Looking live: McMillian was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Maine. His reputation as a tough, hard-hitting safety is what the Packers liked most about him during the draft process, as Green Bay’s defense lacked (and still lacks) those types of players. Playing at a small college against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) competition made it more difficult to project how quickly McMillian would learn the NFL game. Early on, McMillian was doing a lot of things right and was clearly ahead of fellow safety M.D. Jennings on the depth chart to begin the regular season. Coach Mike McCarthy publicly praised McMillian at the time for his surprising contributions and quality work on the field. Slowly, however, McMillian’s playing time started to decline. In Weeks 3, 4 and 5, he played as many as 90 percent of the defensive snaps. Over the next six games, McMillian never was on the field for more than 58 percent of the snaps. After a season-worst performance in Week 17, McMillian played only five snaps combined in the Packers’ two playoff games.
Upon further review: Perhaps it was because opposing teams started to find McMillian’s weaknesses or maybe he just couldn’t continue to play at such a high level, but the 23-year-old’s production declined after a very solid first month. He often struggled in coverage, which turned out to be his biggest downfall. Of the 36 passes thrown to the receiver in McMillian’s coverage area, 22 were completed (61.1 percent) for a passer rating of 84.1. At safety, Jennings was much better in coverage (only 40.9 percent of passes were completed with a 69.3 passer rating), which is why he eventually earned more playing time over McMillian. At 5-foot-11, McMillian is a bit undersized for his position. He wants to play aggressive in the secondary in a league that has started issuing fines for hits that used to be considered clean shots. McMillian even commented during the season that he thought the NFL “had a hit out” on the Packers after fines began to pile up. That’s a glimpse into the mind of a player who, if he improves in coverage and can therefore stay on the field more, could strike fear into the minds of wide receivers going down the middle for a catch.
Overall 2012 grade: C
Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster next season. Obviously, McMillian will be back for Year 2 in Green Bay. The question, though, is whether he can become the every-down, starting-caliber player that the Packers need at safety next to Morgan Burnett. With Charles Woodson being released, the status of Green Bay’s current roster would indicate a training camp battle between McMillian and Jennings. But, given the question marks for each of those players who are still early in their careers, safety could be a position that the Packers address in free agency or in the early rounds of the upcoming draft. If McMillian is asked to play a backup role in 2013, his weaknesses could be better hidden and he could be very effective. In a few years, if McMillian develops his game as expected, he could be a very good player on Green Bay’s defense.