Packers Annual Checkup: S M.D. Jennings

Today is the 23rd 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:

Today: S M.D. Jennings
Wednesday, Feb. 20: LB Brad Jones
Thursday, Feb. 21: WR James Jones
Friday, Feb. 22: FB John Kuhn
Saturday, Feb. 23: G T.J. Lang

Sunday, Feb. 24: LB Jamari Lattimore
Monday, Feb. 25: LB Terrell Manning
Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season, two postseason); 58 tackles, five missed tackles, one interception, one touchdown, two passes defensed, zero forced fumbles; played 51.6 percent of defensive snaps
Best game: Week 11 win at Detroit (one interception, one touchdown, two tackles, zero missed tackles, played 55 of 75 defensive snaps; 1.3 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 1 loss to San Francisco (zero tackles, one touchdown pass allowed in coverage, one missed tackle; played 15 of 67 defensive snaps; season-worst minus-2.3 PFF rating) season rating: minus-1.3 (No. 14 out of 23 on Packers defense)
Expectations at the start of the season: Low
Expectations were … Exceeded
Looking live: Jennings, who signed with the Packers in 2011 as an undrafted free agent, played only 10 defensive snaps as a rookie. With Charles Woodson officially moving to safety for the 2012 season, plus Green Bay’s addition of Jerron McMillian in the fourth round of the draft and Morgan Burnett locked into one of the starting spots, Jennings had a lot of work to do just to get on the field. He barely played early in the regular season, only 28 snaps total in the first five games. At the time, McMillian was clearly ahead of Jennings on the depth chart. Jennings’ playing time increased in Weeks 6 and 7, and he performed well. Then, after Woodson broke his collarbone, Jennings began playing more than 80 percent of the defensive snaps nearly every game through the end of the regular season. When Woodson returned for the playoffs, though, Jennings went right back to his smaller role, playing only 31 percent of snaps in the postseason. But, Jennings did get significantly more snaps (44) than McMillian (five) in the Packers’ two playoff games.
Upon further review: At 6-feet, 195 pounds, Jennings isn’t very big for an NFL safety, and highlight-reel hits are never going to define him. However, he showed his solid speed in several moments this past season, including his 72-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 11 in Detroit. The interception came off a tipped pass, but once the ball was in Jennings’ hands, no Lions player was able to catch him along the sideline. Jennings was mostly used in pass coverage (66 percent of his snaps) in 2012. The biggest reason that Jennings received increased playing time in the latter part of the season was because he was better in pass coverage than McMillian. Jennings allowed a passer rating of 69.3 on passes thrown in his coverage area, while McMillian allowed a passer rating of 84.1. Jennings rushed the passer only 12 times and had no success doing so, not producing any quarterback hurries or hits. McMillian, by comparison, rushed the quarterback 30 times and had four QB hurries. Of course, what Jennings will be most remembered for in 2012 is his role in the “Inaccurate Reception” play Week 3 in Seattle. Jennings appeared to come down with the ball for an interception, but the replacement referees awarded the Seahawks a touchdown instead.
Overall 2012 grade: C
Status for 2013: 95 percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster next season. Jennings is a serviceable and dependable NFL player. That’s a credit to a player who wasn’t even drafted two years ago. Going from 10 defensive snaps as a rookie to 618 snaps a year later is also a significant accomplishment for Jennings. After Nick Collins’ seemingly career-ending neck injury in 2011 and now Woodson’s release, Green Bay is thin at the safety position. That makes it likely Jennings will once again be with the Packers in 2013, but it’s not a lock. Along with McMillian and Burnett on the roster, it will also be interesting to see how undrafted safety Sean Richardson performs in Year 2. Safety is a position of need now in Green Bay, so general manager Ted Thompson could target one in the early rounds of the draft.

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