The Green Bay Packers have a pressing need at safety this offseason. Last year, both starters struggled to play up to expectations. Adrian Amos saw his play fall off and is now an unrestricted free agent. Darnell Savage was benched and may be moved to slot corner where he saw extensive action late in the season. Rudy Ford who took over as the starter after Savage was benched, is also an unrestricted free agent and may not be back in Green Bay.
The Packers are expected to take a safety early in the draft but how quickly a rookie will be ready to step into the lineup and start remains to be seen.
Another possible move for the short term is to move veteran cornerback Rasul Douglas to safety. This was discussed at various times during the 2022 season although it was never implemented. The mid-season injury to second-year cornerback Eric Stokes ended the speculation that Douglas could switch positions.
Douglas was one of the biggest surprises of the 2021 season. The Packers signed him off the Cardinals practice squad in October and in 12 games, he made five interceptions which he returned for 105 and two touchdowns. He also came up big in the clutch, intercepting Kyler Murray in the end zone in the closing seconds of the game to preserve a 24-21 Packers road win against Arizona in his first extended action with the Pack.
In 2021, Douglas had an outstanding season. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Douglas according to pro-football-reference.com and their quarterback rating was just 44.5.
But in 2022, Douglas’ numbers fell off. Opposing quarterbacks completed 64.3 percent of their passes and had a quarterback rating of 88.5.
Douglas started the season covering slot receivers, an assignment that doesn’t allow the former West Virginia star to maximize his skill set. Douglas does not have the elite speed of Jaire Alexander or Eric Stokes so having him try to cover slot receivers is an issue.
But Douglas does have good size at 6’2” and 210 pounds and he is a very intelligent player who studies film, anticipates plays and can play a physical style at the line of scrimmage. The fact that defensive coordinator Joe Barry had Douglas playing in the slot, where speed and changes of direction are important to success worked against him. The soft zone Barry employed also worked against Douglas as he was unable to be more physical and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Barry did state during the season that he believes Douglas has the skills to make the switch to safety. “He has such a great feel, he’s such an instinctual and aware player, you could put him anywhere on the back end, and he’d find a way,” Barry said in December.
Making that change during the season would have been a bigger risk. But now, with an entire offseason to have Douglas adjust to the change and for the coaching staff to prepare him, the timing is better. An intelligent and hard-working player like Douglas would certainly give his all when it comes to preparing to play a new position.
The Packers are also extremely thin at safety right now with Amos likely to depart and Ford not yet re-signed. Savage may be covering the slot or serve as a nickel or dime back where played better late in the season. The Packers also the cap space to bring in a higher priced free agent at safety. That means Douglas may be the best available option at the position.
But the Packers also need to make sure Stokes is healthy again and ready to play full-time at corner. They would also need more depth at that position and of course, Douglas must successfully make the transition after playing cornerback in the NFL for six seasons and during his college career as well.
The move would certainly be a gamble but that doesn’t mean it’s not a gamble worth trying. Douglas has the size, work ethic and skill set to play safety but we won’t know if he can do it effectively until the move is attempted. If it isn’t working in OTAs and during the preseason, the team could always move him back to cornerback.
The big question is how do the Packers address their lack of talent and depth at safety and then is moving Douglas there the best way to handle the situation.
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