Safety Dance: Thompson must select safety early in Draft for Packers
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
~Ever since Nick Collins was unfairly taken away in 2011 in his early prime, the Packers have had a gigantic hole on the back end.
Fans and NFL analysts alike expected the Packers to draft a safety early in the next draft, 2012. Everyone knew Thompson would not go after an unrestricted free agent, so it appeared obvious Thompson would use the draft to fill that massive hole.
He did. Well, sort of.
He waited until the fourth round when he grabbed a guy very few had heard of in Jerron McMillian from Maine.
Many fans who were involved with mock drafts that spring were hoping for safety Harrison Smith from Notre Dame to be the pick, but when #28 came around, Thompson grabbed DE>turned>OLB Nick Perry instead. The Minnesota Vikings had the next pick, and they did select Smith, who was an immediate upgrade to their defense and was an All-Rookie.
The 2012 Packers defense would, quite honestly, have been much better with Smith than they were Perry. Partly, in all fairness, was because Perry missed most of the season with an injury, while Smith was healthy.
Smith did miss most of his next year though, 2013, with his own injuries. And Perry was hurt again.
Last draft, fans and pundits again expected a safety to perhaps be the Packers’ pick at #26. Two were possibilities as Matt Elam from Florida, and Johnathan Cyprien from Florida International were graded as 1st rounders and were available. But Thompson again chose the larger man as he went DL with UCLA’s Datone Jones. Datone might yet pay dividends, as might Perry.
Thompson eventually ended the draft with no safeties selected at all, gambling that McMillian or M.D. Jennings was going to make that “second-year jump” that he and Mike McCarthy have a patent on.
Elam did go just six picks after Datone, at 32 and Cyprien next off the board at 33. Elam ended up being drafted by the champion Ravens, and it was he as a rookie last year who broke Randall Cobb on the legal, but cheap, hit into his planting leg when the Packers played at Baltimore.
So here we are a year later, and the hole at safety is bigger than ever. Thompson, unlike Denver (TJ Ward) and New Orleans (Jairus Byrd) and New England (Darelle Revis) didn’t bolster his secondary by adding a free agent, so it will be Draft-or-Bust if the safety hole is to be finally, properly filled.
Let’s take a look at a few possibilities. Again, with Thompson, you never know. You can’t be surprised if he grabs a guy from a small school like Maine, Bethune-Cookman (Nick Collins), or if he goes big powerhouse school like USC (Clay Matthews) or Alabama (Eddie Lacy).
Clinton-Dix, 6-1, 208, 4.58 forty, is more of a free safety, who reminds me of Byrd a bit as he’s a guy on the back end. He doesn’t have blazing speed though. His speed was exactly the same as Pryor at the NFL Combine.
Pryor, 5-11, 207, 4.58 forty, is an aggressive, hard-hitting safety who reminds many of Harrison Smith and Kenny Vacarro, who was the Saints number one pick last year and injected some physicality to that defense last year.
The Packers secondary hasn’t been accused of being “physical” in quite a few decades. Pryor might be the perfect prescription to that. Pryor knocked out guys last year in three straight games.
Ward is 5-11, 193, and ran a 4.48 at the combine. I’ve heard the Earl Thomas comparison to him, but I see more of Thomas in Pryor. Still, there’s no doubt that Ward would be an upgrade over anything on the roster currently besides Burnett.
Ed Reynolds from Stanford tested as close to a clone to Clinton-Dix as you could find at that combine. He measured in at 6-1, 207 with a 4.57 forty. Just because the magazines and Kiper, McShay, Mayock, and others have Reynolds so much lower, doesn’t mean Thompson does. Reynolds is a projected 3rd/4th round pick, but don’t be shocked to see Thompson take him in the 2nd or 3rd round.
I suspect if Reynolds had done what he did and was from Alabama, he’d be rated higher by the national pundits. Thompson doesn’t get fooled like that, and Thompson has drafted a lot of players from the West Coast (Rodgers, Matthews, Perry, Datone, Jonathan Franklin, James Jones, Desmond Bishop to name a few).
Florida State’s Terrence Brooks is faster (4.42 combine) than all of them, and at 5-11, 198, has similar size as Pryor and Ward. He’s pegged for the 3rd round by most at this time. But again, Ted Thompson has his own grades which are always much different than the pundits we are reading about from January til draft day.
Washington State’s Deone Bucannon measured in at 6-1, 211, with a 4.49 forty. Bucannon has the best blend of size, speed, and game tape of all the safeties.
I would hope that at least one of those guys is drafted by the Packers next month. If not, than perhaps one of these names is a guy Teddy might grab:
Craig Loston, LSU, 6-1, 217, 4.63.
Brock Vereen, Minnesota, 6-0, 199, 4.47.
Ahmad Dixon, Baylor, 6-0, 212, 4.64.
Dion Bailey, USC, 6-0, 201, 4.66.
Dontae Johnson, NC State, 6-2, 200, 4.45.
Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt, 6-0, 207, 4.70.
LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State, at 5-8 is too short for Thompson so I feel you can cross him off the list.
A sleeper to watch for is speedster Dezmen Southward from Wisconsin. At 6-0, 211, he blazed a 4.38 forty at the Badgers Pro Day in March, and leaped an NBA-like 42″.
Only five safeties tested in Indianapolis at this year’s Combine recorded a 40-yard dash under 4.50 seconds. Of the group, only Washington State’s Bucannon recorded a similar time (4.49) while possessing a similar frame (6-foot-1, 211 pounds).
Southward is a better runner and athlete than he is football player. So far.
But some team might grab him earlier than expected because you can’t teach speed like that. Sam Shields is proof of that, and even he went undrafted somehow.
Some possible late-round or undrafted free agents to keep an eye on are:
Jerry Gates, Bowling Green, 5-11, 203, 4.56.
Darwin “Cookie Monster” Cook, West Virginia, 5-11, 203, 4.58.
Shamiel Gary, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 205, 4.53.
Maurice Alexander, Utah State, 6-1, 220, 4.54.
Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky, 6-3, 190, 4.52.
Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State, 6-1, 202, 4.57.
Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Nick Collins, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, DaShon Goldson, Eric Reid.
It seems one thing that championship defenses have in common is they are strong on the back end at the safety positions.
Thompson had that with Collins and young Morgan Burnett. But since Collins’ career was taken away from him, the back end has been atrocious and that has to be fixed finally.
Whoever Thompson does draft, and I think he should draft not one but two safeties, he has to be right this time.
When you rely in the draft more than any other GM does, if he wants to get this team back into the Super Bowl there can be no more missfires like McMillian and MD Jennings. He has to find a good safety next month in the draft.