Much like the Packers’ situation at inside linebacker, we know someone has to start next to Morgan Burnett. But who will it be?
M.D. Jennings did it for ten games last year in relief of an injured Charles Woodson, but there seems to be some feeling that his position is not as secure as he’d likely hope for, thanks in part to Jerron McMillian, one of last year’s fourth round picks.
Before we discuss McMillian, though, we should give due respect to Jennings. He overcame the thing that happened in Seattle (which I will heretofore not dignify with its trendy name) and had a relatively solid year, totaling 32 tackles and two passes defensed to go with one (ahem…two) interception in his ten starts. Granted, without Woodson he didn’t have much competition for playing time, but you can’t really hold that against him.
That’s not to say there aren’t knocks against the young Jennings, though. The biggest and most obvious shortfall to his game is something he can’t really control: his size. He’s just a little guy, and in the fight against the giant tight ends and receivers of the world, being just 5’11” and weighing just 187 pounds is a serious drawback. It also limits him against the run, making the Packers’ defense just that much less flexible when he’s on the field.
That brings us back to Jerron McMillian, a guy who just about everyone was surprised to see get drafted, much less in the fourth round. No seriously, look at the reactions from Todd McShay of ESPN and Adam Anshell from Pro Football Weekly:
See? Literally TWO people were shocked that the Packers took him. (And no, I’m not counting Mel Kiper Jr.’s opinion. He’s contractually obligated to disagree with everything Todd McShay says.)
If you watched the two videos, you’ll know the main arguments against Jerron McMillian: he’s not a fundamentally sound tackler and he’s not great in coverage. What he does have, though, is size. At least compared to Jennings. He outweighs his safety counterpart by almost twenty pounds, and he’s nearly an inch taller, although if I had to guess I’d say Jennings is probably closer to 5’9″ than 5’10”, which would make McMillian about two inches taller.
In limited action last year, McMillian intercepted one pass, broke up five others, recovered a fumble, and notched fourteen tackles. Not a bad stat sheet for a guy at least two experts didn’t think should be drafted. But there’s one column on McMillian’s stat sheet that stayed empty for the entire year: games started. Despite flashes of talent, he never could unseat M.D. Jennings from that starting spot.
He’ll have every opportunity this year, and the competition itself might be the best thing for both McMillian and Jennings. Both will need to show that they’re capable of holding down the starting job, and hopefully both with raise their games as a result. And even if McMillian can’t take over the job from Jennings, the Packers should have better depth at safety this year.