If the Packers are to achieve greatness in the 2019 season, it’ll be as a result of their gifted defensive backs.
Aaron Rodgers. Matt LaFleur.
The national conversation revolves when talking about the Green Bay Packers. It’s for good reason, as without either of them performing well, the team is sunk.
However, few units in the NFL seem as overlooked as the Green Bay secondary. Why? Because many of their important contributors are young stars who have yet to establish themselves as household names.
Take the best of the bunch, Jaire Alexander. Alexander was the No. 18 pick in last year’s draft and quickly made an impact on the Packers defense, leading the team with 11 passes defended. He looks like one of the biggest potential breakout stars around the league with brilliant instincts and playmaking upside.
Still, Alexander isn’t the only cornerback to watch on the Packers defense. The 33rd-overall pick in 2017, Kevin King is just as talented. His only real question marks center around health, because if King can remain relatively injury-free, there’s ample potential.
Beyond Alexander and King, the Packers have another possible breakout candidate in Josh Jackson, who impressed last season with 10 passes defended. He had some growing pains and was forced to spend a lot of time in the slot, but Jackson showed signs of growth.
At Iowa, Jackson intercepted eight passes and defended 18 total in his final season. As a rookie, Jackson flashed that ball-hawking ability in the Packers secondary, and both his own development and the safety upgrades could enable him to be an X-factor for this pass defense.
The youthful corners continuing to improve is key, but the new safety duo already makes Green Bay’s defensive backfield dangerous. Offseason signing Adrian Amos is one of the NFL’s most consistent safeties and starred for the Chicago Bears’ defense last season. A terrific free-agent signing, Amos is the kind of player who makes everyone around him better. And, unlike the others on this team, he is already an established name in the secondary following an exceptional 2018 season.
Likewise, Darnell Savage Jr. is a safety who can make an immediate impact at the next level. Savage is a first-round pick who can start at either free safety or slot cornerback, with the former looking probable in Green Bay. A chess piece for the Packers defense, Savage is a high-end athlete who is a notorious ball-hawk. General manager Brian Gutekunst clearly has a type between Alexander, Jackson and Savage. Guys who get the ball.
Last season, the Packers secondary did a poor job of creating big plays. They allowed 30 touchdowns against only seven interceptions, ranking them 29th in the league at picking off passes. Interception leaders Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Bashaud Breeland have departed, so the Packers only have two interceptions (one each from youngsters Alexander and King) remaining from 2018.
That said, the Packers youth movement in the secondary could pay off in a huge way this season.
Jackson, King, and Alexander appear primed to elevate a Packers defense that finished 21st in the NFL in net yards per pass attempt allowed and 22nd in points per game allowed.
Critically, they won’t be without help. In addition to signing Amos to give their secondary at least one established star, the Packers made two solid signings at outside linebacker. Green Bay’s pass rush was poor last season, with only two players equaling 12 QB hits.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith are two of the NFL’s more consistent disruptors off the edge, and they’ll join 10.5-sack breakout star Kyler Fackrell to form one of the league’s most potent outside linebacker triumvirates off the edge. They will undoubtedly help Alexander and Co. realize their full playmaking potential, thus helping the Packers offense earn even more chances to put points on the board with short fields.
Therein lies the answer to why the Packers secondary is so key to their success next season. The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots made it to the Super Bowl despite not having top-five defenses because they were so adept at creating turnovers; both teams were among the top five in interceptions forced.
Not only do the Packers have the talent on paper to field a great defense, but they have the potential to field a great playmaking defense like the Rams and Patriots in 2018. If that potential is fulfilled, the Packers could be headed for a deep playoff run despite missing the postseason last year, as few strengths can overcome any weaknesses on offense or defense quite like a strong secondary.