Player grades are a tried-and-true staple at the end of every season. We put our usual spin on them by grading the players on a salary-cap curve. Stats are from STATS , the NFL and the Packers’ coaches. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com.
Morgan Burnett: A couple weeks before training camp in 2013, general manager Ted Thompson signed Burnett to a four-year contract extension worth more than $26 million. Burnett responded with a disappointing season that had outsiders howling. No more. Burnett is the quarterback of the defense, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked considering how much playing time the rookie cornerbacks received. Despite missing five of the first six games with an injured calf, Burnett finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles. He forced two fumbles, recovered another and broke up six passes. While he didn’t have an interception — and has just one in the past three seasons — he did contribute three hurries as a blitzer. His four stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage in the run game) ranked seventh among all safeties. Both Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are signed through 2017, ensuring the Packers will have a top safety tandem for at least the next two seasons. The defensive captain’s cap number of $5.131 million ranked 14th among safeties. Grade: B.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: After an up-and-down rookie season and a shaky start to Year 2, Clinton-Dix really came into his own as the season progressed. He had a team-high 117 tackles, with his 9.16 snaps per tackle just edging Burnett’s 9.45 snaps per tackle for tops in the defensive backfield. He filled the stat sheet with three sacks, two interceptions (plus another in the playoffs), a forced fumble and four passes defensed. His sack count was the most by a Packers safety since Mark Roman had 3.5 in 2004. Most importantly, he tackled much, much better than he did as a rookie, when he ducked his head too often and was left grasping at air. Unofficially, we had him with 15 misses last year but eight this year. The next step is the Pro Bowl. His cap number of $1.895 million ranked 47th among safeties. Grade: A-minus.
Chris Banjo: Banjo’s play in 2015 made you wonder what Thompson was thinking in 2014, when Banjo languished on the practice squad for most of the season even while the special teams were getting trashed on a weekly basis. New coordinator Ron Zook made good use of Banjo’s athleticism and strength, with Banjo’s 22 special-teams tackles being the Packers’ most since Desmond Bishop had 22 in 2009. His effort and tenacity caught the attention of his peers, who voted him a special-teams captain. At 5-foot-10, he’ll never be more than a reserve on defense, though he fared well in about 100 snaps — most coming in the three-safety “big okie” package when Burnett was out. His cap number was $585,000. Grade: B.
Sean Richardson: Thompson raised some eyebrows by matching the Raiders’ restricted free-agent offer sheet for Richardson. That meant a guaranteed salary (and cap number) of $2.55 million. Of course, the Packers couldn’t jettison everyone from their beleaguered special teams, and Richardson had led the way with 17 tackles. At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, he might have had a role on defense. Instead, his career may be over with a herniated disc. His cap number ranked 30th among safeties. Grade: Incomplete.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.