All eyes will be on the Green Bay Packers safety position this summer. While there’s still a lot to be determined, here’s how I think things stand after what I saw during OTAs and minicamp.
Overall, this was a position group that underwhelmed last season. This is also a position group with a number of new faces and generally lacks defensive experience as well. So it’s not just playing time that’s at stake, but so are roster spots, with the Packers typically keeping four or five players on their 53-man roster at that position.
The Packers’ offseason programs consisted of five practices open to the media. Ultimately, final playing time and roster decisions will be determined by what happens during training camp and the preseason, but these open practices gave us a look at where things stand, at least for now. So if I put together the current depth chart, this is how I would have each player slot given what I saw taking place.
1. Darnell Savage
As we saw last season when Darnell Savage was benched, things can change, but in Week 1 in Chicago, he will be a starter. Savage is by far the most experienced safety on this list with nearly 4,000 career snaps along with some flashes of playmaking. However, those flashes have not been consistent and poor tackling, which has never been his forte, and being out of position resulting in big plays for the attack were regular mistakes that we saw all too often last season. Bouncing back in 2023 begins with consistency, closure and being in the right place.
2. Rudy Ford
During all the team’s practices, every time it was Rudy Ford lined up next to Savage. This shouldn’t come as a surprise either. In terms of experience in Joe Barry’s defense, Ford has seen the second most playing time and he brought much-needed reliability to the team last season. Ford has shown himself to be a willing tackler and run defender, and by being in the right spots he came away with four takeaways, despite not seeing consistent playing time until over halfway through the season.
3rd and 4th Tarvarius Moore and Jonathan Owens
Admittedly, I’m not sure who to put at third on the depth chart and who to put at four. If I did this after OTAs, it would be Tarvarius Moore in the third slot since he saw more snaps with the starting defense than Owens did. However, Moore did not participate in the two minicamp practices, so it was Owens who took those snaps. Moore played over 500 defensive snaps with San Francisco in 2020, missed all of 2021 with an injury and played mostly special teams a season ago. Owens, meanwhile, played nearly 1,000 snaps for Houston last season, the first time he has seen significant playing time. Both have proven to be very good tacklers in their careers.
5. Anthony Johnson Jr.
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding rookie Anthony Johnson, but out of the players just mentioned, he was clearly the fifth option, spending all his time on the second-team defense, lining up next to Moore or Owens, whatever. t with them that day. Johnson has the skills to fill an Adrian Amos-like role in this defense with his ability to help in the run game, but not only is he battling the learning curve that comes with being an NFL rookie, but he’s also still learning a relatively new position, entering just his second season at safety after spending his first four seasons at Iowa State at cornerback.
You’ll notice that I’m not even going to give Dallin Leavitt a number — which is intentional — because he’s on this list for being a special teams player. He played the second-most special teams snaps for Green Bay last season, has spent his entire career playing under Rich Bisaccia, and there were a few occasions when Aaron Rodgers complimented the leadership role Leavitt had taken on in the locker room. I just can’t imagine right now a Packers final roster without Leavitt, although again you won’t see him playing defense.
7. Innis Gaines
Innis Gaines is listed as a safety, but he saw his share of snaps with the second- and third-team defense from the slot during offseason programs. Gaines played 44 defensive snaps in 2022 over the past three weeks, 32 of which came from the slot. Given the sheer number of players at this position, it’s hard to see what Gaines’ path to the 53-man roster will look like.
8. Benny Sapp
Benny Sapp is an undrafted rookie from UNI. He’s a versatile defender who mostly lined up as a free safety in college, but he has plenty of experience in the box and from the slot. Sapp also played nearly 500 special teams snaps. Again, given how crowded this position group is, Sapp’s ceiling as a rookie will most likely be as a practice squad player.