A Scout's Take on the Next Tier of Safeties After Clinton-Dix and Pryor

Bob FoxContributor IApril 19, 2014

Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois
Jimmie Ward from Northern IllinoisAssociated Press

There is no doubt that the play of the safeties for the Green Bay Packers in 2013 was not very good. It was actually quite bad.

For one thing, not one of the safeties had an interception the entire season. That hasn't happened in Green Bay since the early 1950s.

The starters, Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings, were also both responsible for multiple blown coverages and a number of missed tackles.

Except for each player recovering a fumble and scoring a touchdown, it was hard to find any big plays by either Burnett or Jennings.

Jennings is no longer with the Packers, as the team did not tender an offer for him as a restricted free agent, and he ended up signing with the Chicago Bears as a free agent instead.

Burnett definitely needs to bounce back in 2014 with a better performance compared to his play last season. No. 42 was also coming off a contract extension he had signed last summer before training camp.

But like so many players in training camp last year with the Packers, Burnett hurt his hamstring, and he ended up missing the first three games of the season.

Bottom line, he wasn't nearly as effective last year as he had been during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

One of the ways in which the Packers plan to shore up the position is by moving Micah Hyde to safety. Hyde played some safety in college at Iowa, but last season was used most often at the slot-cornerback position due to the lingering hamstring injury suffered by Casey Hayward.

Based on his play as a rookie last season, head coach Mike McCarthy certainly wants Hyde on the field more often, which will include an opportunity at safety.

The Packers also have Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo on the depth chart at the position.

Still, the Packers have to fortify the position in this year's draft without a doubt. That being said, I had another opportunity to talk with scout Chris Landry on Friday during Steve Duemig's radio show.

Chris and I have talked about the safeties in the 2014 NFL draft on a number of occasions. We talked about the differences between the top two safeties in this year's draft last month, when Chris gave me his take on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Calvin Pryor from Louisville.

On Friday, I wanted to get Landry's opinion on the next tier of safeties in this year's draft class, which includes Deone Bucannon from Washington State and Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois:

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20) returns an interception in the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebila

I think both of those guys (Bucannon and Ward) are going to go in the second round. I have 6.4 grades on them. They are both strong safety guys who are physical around the line of scrimmage. Bucannon is a little bit better in coverage than Ward.

But both represent good value. I think Lamarcus Joyner is very underrated as well out of Florida State. I think he can play in the slot. He's got some ability in coverage. He's just height-deficient. He's just a short guy.

But I think those five guys, meaning the three we mentioned, Ward, Bucannon and Joyner, and I would put them in that order, with two second-round picks (Ward and Bucannon) and late third-round for Joyner, would be behind Clinton-Dix and Pryor, who will likely go in the first round, both of whom have free safety capabilities.

Bucannon, Ward and Joyner have all had very solid careers in college football.

I had the Packers taking the 6'1", 211-pound Bucannon in the second round of my most recent mock draft. Bucannon had a very good career at Washington State, as he had 384 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, 15 interceptions, 23 passes defended, one fumble recovery and seven forced fumbles.

Bucannon also had a very good performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The 5'11, 193-pound Ward also put up excellent numbers in his career at Northern Illinois, where he had 319 tackles, 11 interceptions and four forced fumbles.

At the combine, Ward only had nine reps in the bench press, but he looked good at his pro day and ran a 4.47 40-yard dash.


Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State
Lamarcus Joyner from Florida StatePhil Sears

As Landry had mentioned, Joyner is on the small-side, as he only goes 5'8" and 184 pounds. He had a solid career as a Seminole with 197 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 21 passes defended and three forced fumbles.

I definitely could see general manager Ted Thompson selecting either Bucannon or Ward if given the opportunity, but I doubt that he would pick a player like Joyner.

Why? Thompson has never drafted a defensive back shorter than 5'11" since he took charge of the front office in 2005.

Thompson was also part of the scouting staff under Ron Wolf in 1992, when the Packers selected another small defensive back out of Florida State named Terrell Buckley with the fifth pick of the first round that year.

Buckley was just 5'9" and 174 pounds. He was very athletic, but he definitely had problems when he went up against bigger receivers like Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper of the Cowboys.

The NFC North has a number of big receivers currently playing in the division, which includes Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery of the Bears, Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Cordarrelle Patterson of the Vikings.

Bottom line, if the Packers don't get an opportunity to select either Clinton-Dix or Pryor in the first round of the upcoming draft, you can bet that both Ward and Bucannon will be on the team's radar in the second round.


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