The Green Bay Packers have one more preseason game before cutdown day when they must set their initial roster for the 2023 NFL season. While most of the starting jobs have been determined in training camp and through the first two exhibition games, the one position that has the most uncertainty remains safety.
The One Settled Starter at Safety
We all know Darnell Savage will be one of the team’s starters. The former first-round pick out of Maryland is playing on his fifth-year option and must have a strong season to sign another deal with the Packers or to make himself attractive to another NFL team for next season.
Savage has undeniable talent but has played inconsistently throughout his career. He played his best football for the Packers late in the 2020 season when teamed with Adrian Amos. Savage made big plays and looked like he was going to develop into a very good safety. Unfortunately, since then, his play has fallen off and he was even benched last season for inconsistent coverage and tackling.
The starting job opposite Savage remains completely up in the air. There are presently four players in competition for that starting job. All of them made some plays but none of them played established themselves as the team’s other starter.
The players are not listed in any particular order:
Packers Safety Candidate Number One: Rudy Ford
Rudy Ford was the closest thing the Packers had to an incumbent at the position. He started a career-high six games last season and intercepted three passes last season.
The former Auburn star is still inconsistent in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed 65 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Ford last season according to pro-football-reference.com and had a quarterback rating of 106.7.
Ford will make the team because of his experience and prowess on special teams but in preseason, he has yet to show is the answer as the other starting safety.
Packers Safety Candidate Number Two: Jonathan Owens
Jonathan Owens may be the best run defender among the top four candidates, and he should make the final 53 based on his performance thus far in training camp and preseason.
Owens finished second on the Texans in tackles a year ago with 125. The Green Bay defense needs a reliable tackler on the roster and Owens should fit the bill. But his coverage skills are still less than stellar. Last season, opposing quarterbacks completed 66.7 percent of their passes and had a quarterback rating of 128.5 when throwing to receivers covered by Owens.
Like Ford, Owens has made some plays during the preseason, but made mistakes on others. He may be better suited to backup and special teams duties than being a full-time starter this season.
Packers Safety Candidate Number Three: Tarvarius Moore
Unfortunately, Tavarius Moore suffered a knee injury that has cost him valuable chances to show he should be the other starter. If he doesn’t return in time to play in the final preseason game, Moore won’t get another chance before cutdown day.
Like Ford and Dallin Leavitt (who only played on special teams last year), Moore is also a good special teams player and that may be enough to earn him a roster spot.
Moore has great speed when healthy which could give him an edge, but he’ll need to return to his pre-2021 injury form when he started eight games for the 49ers in 2020.
Packers Safety Candidate Number Four: Anthony Johnson Jr.
Rookie seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson, Jr., has showed some flashes of ability in camp and preseason but is he ready to start? The former Iowa State star has been a pleasant surprise and his size is an asset.
Johnson probably makes the roster for his upside, but he is probably not ready to start in Week 1 for this team.
The Packers Other Option at Safety
If none of the players on the roster distinguishes themselves against Seattle this Saturday, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst could always make a trade for a safety or look for one on the waiver wire after teams make their cuts.
Obviously, this player would not have much time to learn the Packers defense before the season starts, but he certainly could be a talent upgrade over the present roster of unproven players.
Heading into the final preseason game, safety remains the team’s biggest area of uncertainty. It is an area to watch Saturday afternoon against Seattle.
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