It’s abundantly clear the Packers are under-equipped at safety.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. There exists a second year safety known for his athleticism and hard hits who could help the Packers’ secondary. He has good range and can tackle well if needed. He has also demonstrated great intelligence and ball skills. He even wears number 22.
If you’re wondering why that description doesn’t sound like some of the things you usually hear about Jerron McMillian, there’s a reason for that: I’m not talking about him.
I’m talking about the Vikings’ Harrison Smith.
Rewind to the 2012 NFL Draft. With Charles Woodson shifting from cornerback to safety, the logical thinking was that the Packers needed more help for Clay Matthews up front. So, with that no doubt in mind, Ted Thompson drafted USC’s Nick Perry with the 28th pick in the first round. Perry, a converted defensive end with eye popping athleticism and the strength to push the pocket and lend a hand to Mr. Matthews, recorded two sacks in six games as a rookie before injuries shut him down for the season. He remains a work in progress, still making the shift from end to linebacker.
One pick later, though, went Smith, who proceeded to start every game at safety, notching 69 tackles, 11 passes defensed, three interceptions, and a sack along the way. He may already be the best safety in the NFC North, depending on where you rank Burnett and Louis Delmas, and no matter where he ranks, he’ll be an anchor in Minnesota’s secondary for years to come.
As silly as it is to judge draft picks by their contributions just 17 games into their NFL careers, it seems like Ted Thompson may have misfired here. While Perry may yet develop into the solid pass rusher the Packers believe he can be, Smith is already the sort of contributor that could be making a huge difference in the Packers’ secondary.
True, the cupboard was pretty bare as far as pass rushers go behind Perry, but that doesn’t mean the Smith pick wasn’t the right one. Thompson could have picked Smith in the first round and gone with North Carolina’s Zach Brown in the second round. Brown was an athletic outside linebacker prospect with wide receiver speed and pass rushing skills, and he went just one pick after the Packers took Jerel Worthy in the second round. Brown started nine games in 2012 and recorded 5.5 sacks and posted two sacks in his first game this season. Worthy, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, remains on the PUP list with a knee injury from last year and may not play this year.
And even if they didn’t want Smith, the Packers passed on at least three safeties believed to be starting caliber in this year’s draft: Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien, and D.J. Swearinger. Each one of them may have been more prepared to step up if another member of the secondary went down, which is exactly what happened this week.
Of course, this is all sour grapes, or water under the bridge, or whatever metaphor you want to choose. The fact is, though, the Packers have consistently passed on upgrading their safety position, and it’s finally bitten them in the backside. With Morgan Burnett in doubt for another week and Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, and Fred Davis all licking their lips on the Redskins sideline, it could be another frustrating game for the Packers defense.