Behind the starters, it’s just question marks in the Packers’ safety room.
The Green Bay Packers have assembled a defense that, on paper, looks to have an extremely exciting and talented starting 11. However, at several positions, the depth behind the players in the starting lineup raises myriad questions, whether due to youth and inexperience, injury questions, or other unknowns.
Perhaps no position embodies that theme better on the 2022 roster than at safety. The starting duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage look very good to excellent, with Amos’ steady and consistent play allowing Savage to take some risks and make plays. But behind those two, the rest of the players at the position have a combined 89 NFL snaps on defense, all coming from a single player.
Those depth questions underscore the need for the Packers to find a reliable option as a backup safety, especially with the team having used a player at the position as the dime defensive back for much of last season. Here’s a look at the options available.
How acquired: Unrestricted free agent signing in 2019
NFL experience: 8th year
2021 stats: 17 starts; 93 total tackles (75 solo); 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended
The venerable Amos is entering the final year of the four-year free agent contract he signed with the Packers during the free agency splurge of 2019. His deal is almost certainly the best value of the four, as only he and Preston Smith remain and Smith’s retention coming with a pay cut for 2022.
Amos has been exceptionally consistent in his three years as a Packer. In each season he has recorded over 80 tackles, exactly two interceptions, and either eight or nine passes defended. He also has not missed a game, in fact missing only a handful of defensive snaps at all. It would not come as a surprise if the Packers try to extend Amos’ contract during this season, even though the team shifted base salary to bonus money in each of the last two offseasons to push off some of his cap hit into 2023.
How acquired: 2019 NFL Draft (first round, #21 overall)
NFL experience: 4th year
2021 stats: 17 starts; 63 total tackles (48 solo), 2 TFLs; 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended
The speed that helped make Savage a first-round pick has not waned, but while Amos’ hallmark has been his consistency, Savage’s has been his lack thereof. For stretches, he looks like a game-changing player on the back end before appearing lost at times. All told, he has been a net positive for this team, which picked up his fifth-year option for 2023 even as they look for him to harness his impressive physical gifts more reliably.
How acquired: 2020 NFL Draft (seventh round, #236 overall)
NFL experience: 3rd year
2021 stats: 3 games played; 17 special teams snaps, 1 assisted tackle
Behind the starters, only Scott has ever appeared in an NFL game on defense, getting just shy of 100 snaps as a rookie in 2020. He was the team’s fourth safety that season behind Will Redmond, but took a step back last season as Henry Black passed him on the depth chart. However, the Packers let Black walk in the offseason rather than offer him an exclusive-rights tender, while Scott remains.
With the competition wide open behind the starters once again, Scott’s two years in Green Bay should give him a leg up on the other players in the room. Time will tell if that plays out.
How acquired: Signed to practice squad in September 2021
NFL experience: First year
2021 stats: 1 game played, 9 special teams snaps, 1 assisted tackle
The player running in the pole position for the third safety job throughout spring practices is Davis, who arrived in Green Bay last September. He was a 5th-round draft pick by the Colts in 2021, but struggled mightily in the preseason and was eventually let go at final cuts. However, he has good size (5-foot-11 and 202 pounds) and athleticism (above the 90th percentile in his vertical and broad jumps). He was elevated off the Packers’ practice squad just once last season, however, and played only on special teams.
How acquired: Signed as street free agent in January 2021A
NFL experience: First year
2021 stats: 1 game played, 5 special teams snaps, 1 assisted tackle
Gaines, a college teammate with Scott at TCU, was out of football in 2020 due to injury but signed on a futures deal with the Packers in early 2021. He flashed a few times on special teams, but ended up spending the entire season on the practice squad. Like Davis, he saw just one call-up to the gameday roster, but a second offseason with the Packers could give him an extra boost to try to make the 2022 squad.
How acquired: 2022 NFL Draft (seventh round, # overall)
NFL experience: Rookie
2021 stats: (At Georgia Tech) 11 games played; 65 total tackles (40 solo), 1 TFL; 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Although he was announced as a safety when he was drafted and is listed there on the Packers’ official roster, Carpenter is very much in the Oren Burks mold and the Packers said he will likely see some cross-training at both safety and linebacker. He and Burks are remarkably similar in terms of size and athleticism in every area except agility, where Carpenter’s testing lagged far behind.
With that comparison in mind, it would be no surprise to see Carpenter take on Burks’ primary role on special teams, as his departure in free agency also sent away the team’s 2021 snap leader on those units. As a straight-line speed demon, Carpenter is a perfect fit on punt and kickoff teams, but he might be an option if the Packers need a big body with some coverage ability to cover running backs and tight ends.
How acquired: Undrafted rookie free agent signing in 2022
NFL experience: Rookie
2021 stats: (At Oklahoma State) 5 games played; 15 total tackles (9 solo), 2.5 TFLs, 1.0 sack
A wrist injury sidelined Sterling for much of 2021, but he’s back and ready to give his NFL career a shot. That and some poor athletic testing were likely the primary reasons for his fall out of the draft, but he was a great playmaker as a sophomore and junior. In those two seasons, he combined for 144 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, two sacks, and three interceptions as one of the leaders on the Cowboys’ defense. He could be a sneaky pick as a rookie UDFA who could earn a roster spot given the relative lack of depth at the position.