The 2023 NFL Draft is almost here. As of now, the Green Bay Packers have the 15th overall pick in the first round and the 45th overall pick in the second round of the draft. More early round picks could be added if the trade of Aaron Rodgers is completed before or during the draft.
This is the next in a series of articles looking at players the Packers may be interested in selecting in the early rounds of this year’s draft. The only players listed here are realistic possibilities for the Packers to pick in the first or second round of the draft or who fill specific needs for the team right now.
The Packers have a big need at safety with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the position. Adrian Amos, who started for the team over the last four seasons, remains an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to be back. Darnell Savage is returning, but he played so poorly last season he was benched and although his play picked up late in the year when he got a second chance due to injuries, he is also an unrestricted free agent after this season.
The depth players are returning but most of them are on the roster for their contributions on special teams. Rudy Ford started six games last season and had a career high three interceptions but is he ready for a full-time starting role? Tariq Carpenter, Dallin Leavitt, Innis Gaines and Tarvarius Moore are primarily special teams players and none is a proven starter at safety.
The bad news is there are not a lot of safeties worthy of a first-round pick in this draft. That means many of the players in this article may be better suited to be second or third round picks because of the lack of high-end talent at this position in this year’s draft class.
How will GM Brian Gutekunst address the team’s need to upgrade at this position? Is it possible they move Rasul Douglas inside? Do they sign a veteran free agent? Even if both of those moves are made, drafting a safety who can start by next year makes a lot of sense in this draft as safety is a major need for this team.
So here is a list of possible safeties the Packers may take early in the 2023 draft. They are not listed in any particular order:
Brian Branch, Alabama
Branch is the only player worth taking a first-round flier on in this draft. The biggest concern about the Alabama alum is his lack of size at 6’0” and 195 which may raise some concerns about his ability to be physical near the line of scrimmage in the NFL. That was not an issue in college. Branch played many roles at Alabama, in the box, as the “star” or even at cornerback.
He takes good angles to the ball both in coverage and against the run and makes his share of interceptions as a result. He has good instincts and despite his lack of blazing speed, he limited big plays and covered the middle of the field well.
His lack of elite athleticism may make the Packers gun shy in the first round, but he won’t be there when they pick in round two and the drop off after Branch at this position is significant. Branch may not have all the measurables the Packers like in a first-round pick, but he is by far the best player at what may be their position of biggest need and he can step in and start right away if Gutekunst picks him in round one.
Antonio Johnson Texas A&M
Johnson has the size the Packers prefer at 6’3” and 195 pounds and he has long arms. He can make stops against the run and covers short passes and running plays well. He is good at contesting 50-50 balls and has good ball instincts.
The problem is that Johnson is not extremely fast and gets beaten deep in man coverage. That shouldn’t be too big a problem in the Packers defense as they tend to play deep zone with their safeties. Johnson can also cover tight ends, which is another area Green Bay’s defense often struggles with.
Johnson isn’t an elite athlete, but his skill set could help steady the Packers defense against the short pass and against the run, two areas the team needs to upgrade. He would be a logical and worthy second round selection especially if the Packers add one in a trade with the Jets.
Jordan Battle, Alabama
Battle is a smart safety who likes to play deep and attack downhill. He has good instincts and football smarts and reads plays well but he’s not the most physically gifted player and possesses only average athleticism. His strength is zone coverage because he lacks the speed to cover in man.
He reads plays well and is solid against the run but needs to improve his tackling to excel at the next level.
If he improves his tackling, his smarts and leadership qualities should make him a long-term starter at safety and somebody who could help the Packers right away if they select him in the second or third rounds.
JL Skinner, Boise State
Skinner checks all the boxes as an athlete but is very raw. He comes from a smaller school program and really may be a player without a clear-cut position. Skinner is physical and aggressive, but he sometimes gets too enthusiastic to hit opposing players and takes penalties as a result.
He doesn’t have much experience reading offenses and needs to be coached in this area to take the next step. He could help out immediately on special teams.
His size is ideal at 6’4” and 210 pounds and can help against the run, something the Packers really need. Physically, Skinner has upside, but will he learn enough to take it to the next level and excel?
Christopher Smith, Georgia
The Packers like to draft Georgia Bulldogs and Smith was a leader and a heady player there. He is smart and tracks the ball well in the air and can play center field in the secondary. One thing Smith does well is baiting quarterbacks and then getting to the receiver when the ball is in the air and often gets to the ball first.
Smith is not an elite athlete and that may make Gutekunst think twice. At 5’10”, 190 pounds, he’s not going to dominate at the line of scrimmage and may have trouble tackling at the NFL level.
His upside may be limited by his lack of size and speed, but Smith would be a player who could contribute quickly and provide some leadership in the secondary if he makes the adjustment to the NFL. He is a day two draft pick on most boards.
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