DEPTH CHART: 2013
UNDER CONTRACT: 2014
Burnett and Richardson. (Jennings is a restricted free agent and Banjo is an exclusive-rights free agent.)
The grade: D. The Packers didn't have the worst safety play in the league. Green Bay's safeties looked like a group of Pro Bowlers when compared to the Bears' safeties. Still, the play on the back end was a colossal disappointment. Other than Burnett's three fumbles recoveries and his sideline breakup of a deep pass in the final moments at Chicago, the impact plays were nonexistent. The Packers' safeties didn't intercept a pass. They didn't force a fumble. They had one sack. In the midst of that ineptitude, the Packers still gave up on 2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian after his stumbling, bumbling meltdown at Baltimore.
The good: His play wasn't great but Richardson's story was nothing short of remarkable. An undrafted rookie last year, he was just starting to get into the defensive rotation when he sustained a neck injury covering the opening kickoff during the Nov. 25 game at New York. He missed the rest of the season and needed fusion surgery to mend a herniated disc. As training camp ticked away and the regular season kicked off, Richardson tried his best to stay positive. As the season melted away, though, even Richardson seemed prepared for whatever decision the training staff would make.
Finally, on Nov. 13, Richardson walked to his locker and saw his helmet. That meant he'd been given the green light to start practicing. On Nov. 24, Richardson played 11 defensive snaps against the Vikings.
Richardson got more snaps than Jennings against Atlanta, Dallas and Pittsburgh, only for Jennings to get the lion's share of the action against Chicago and San Francisco.
On the plus side, at 216 pounds, Richardson provides a much-needed thumper, which frees up Burnett to play more in coverage. On the negative side, it remains to be seen if Richardson can play coverage at a starting-caliber level. It's the same question scouts had before the 2012 draft, which is why he went undrafted.
The bad: The Packers targeted Burnett like a star-in-the-making, handing him a $24.75 million contract that included an $8.25 million signing bonus.
In 13 games, he tallied 104 tackles, no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed. In 16 games in 2012, he tallied 137 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 13 passes defensed. In both seasons, he missed 11 tackles.
According to a scout at the Senior Bowl, there is a buzz that the Packers might cut their losses with Burnett. He's due a $1.5 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league-year. The league-year begins March 11; the bonus would be paid on March 16.
The surprise: The Packers had enough positions of need entering last year's draft that there was no way they could fill them all. Still, that they didn't draft a safety was a major surprise, considering they had released Charles Woodson and couldn't possibly have seen anything in Jennings to suggest he'd become a reliable starter. In fact, they didn't even sign a decent safety in college free agency. So, while Woodson had a decent season for the Raiders, Burnett regressed, McMillian got whacked and nobody emerged from the mediocre pack.
The coach says: "If you look at numbers and you use those as a sole measuring stick, you can get fooled. You really have to look with your eyes and be critical of yourself and not get caught up in what the stats say. Again, if you put numbers up against other people, you say, ‘Oh, that's not a bad year.' Morgan had over 100 tackles for the third year in a row, and you say, ‘That's a pretty good season.' But again, we gave up too many big plays in the passing game. That just can't happen if you want to be a top-notch defense. Those are the plays we have to eliminate, bottom line. Interceptions don't define a person's career, I've been around great players, coached great players that didn't get a lot of interceptions. That doesn't make them a good player or bad player." — safeties coach Darren Perry
It's hard to believe the Packers will release Burnett. After all, who's going to replace him in the starting lineup? Not to mention the $6.6 million worth of dead money on a tight cap. Rather, the best option probably is to draft a solid starter so Burnett doesn't have to be used so often as an in-the-box safety.
Safety has to be a big focal point of the Packers' scouts this week at the Senior Bowl. It's a strong group, with Washington State's Deone Bucannon and Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler two possibilities to remember, according to a scout. Both have the versatility the Packers covet, as physical run defenders with the speed to cover in center field.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.