Everyone does player grades.
Ours are different.
We do ours on a salary-cap curve. After all, the salary cap largely determines long-term success in the NFL. Players with big-money contracts must be big-time performers. Those highly paid players must be supplemented by several small-budget but high-production players.
With that, we continue this series with the safeties. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com.
2016 cap: $5.956 million (14th at position)
In his seventh season, Burnett did more than ever. To add speed to the defense, he lined up at inside linebacker at times. When the Packers were up a creek with a run of injuries at cornerback, he manned the slot. Regardless of the position, Burnett generally lined up near the line of scrimmage and did the dirty work in his typical team-first style. Despite missing the end of the Week 2 game against Minnesota and all of the Week 3 game against Detroit, Burnett paced the team with 92 tackles. He led the unit with 10.27 snaps per tackle, though that was down from 9.45 last year. His stuffs count (tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage) went from four to one-half. He missed eight tackles. After a total of one interception the previous three seasons, Burnett picked off two passes this year (and allowed two touchdowns). His 13 pass breakups were more than he had the past two seasons combined. In coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a 68.6 percent completion rate (35-of-51 for 384 yards). His yards per coverage snap (0.70) and snaps per reception (15.6) were by far the worst of the safety corps. Then again, he also had some strong games against tight ends.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
2016 cap: $2.274 million (44th at position)
Clinton-Dix, the first-round pick in 2014, needed merely three seasons for his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolades. In his first two seasons, he intercepted three passes. This year, he picked off five. He wasn’t always right, but his improving instincts and trust in his film study allowed him to excel in coverage. According to PFF, he allowed a 67.9 percent completion rate (19-of-28 for 203 yards). However, these are the key numbers: 0.34 yards per coverage snap, 31.6 coverage snaps per reception, and five interceptions vs. one touchdown. Not only did his interception total rise, but so too did his pass-breakups count (four in 2015 to nine in 2016). Clinton-Dix finished with 83 tackles. His 12.40 snaps per tackle was down from his unit-best 9.16 from last year. He tackled better than ever, too. Of his two missed tackles, none of them came against the run. He also forced the only fumble by a safety. He seemed to fade a bit down the stretch, though some of the reduced production might have been defenses steering clear of the secondary’s premier playmaker. Oh, and he played every single snap.
2016 cap: $450,000 (135th at position)
Other than first-round pick Kenny Clark, no rookie played better than Brice, the undrafted free agent. It seemed like a weekly occurrence in which Brice would deliver a big, legal hit. It’s one thing to deliver a jarring blow. It’s quite another to do it with proper fundamentals. That was Brice. Two plays stand out: His goal-line tackle against Atlanta, in which Brice stood his ground and stoned running back Falcons running back Terron Ward at the 1 in November; and his knock-him-off-his-cleats tackle of Dallas receiver Cole Beasley in the playoffs. Brice played extensively in the dime package. He finished with 15 tackles (17.2 snaps per tackle) and allowed 4-of-7 passing for 79 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and one breakup. Plus, he played a team-high 297 snaps on special teams and contributed eight tackles. With Burnett and Clinton-Dix under contract through the end of 2017, Brice could be playing the upcoming season for a shot at starting in 2018.
2016 cap: $450,000 (135th at position)
Evans had an excellent training camp and preseason, only to be overshadowed by Brice. He barely played on defense until the NFC Championship Game but made an impact on special teams. He was sixth on the team in special-teams snaps but tied for second in tackles with nine. As is the case with Brice, he’s got a great combination of size and speed.
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.