Packers bolster slot CB role through the safety position in 2024 draft

The Green Bay Packers didn’t specifically add a cornerback in the draft until their last pick in the seventh round. However, they may have bolstered that position from the nickel by selecting safeties Javon Bullard and Evan Williams.

Although Bullard and Williams are listed as safeties and will be a part of that position group for the Packers, both bring nickel experience to the NFL from their respective college days.

Bullard spent most of his snaps in 2023 lined up as a free safety, but in 2022, he was Georgia’s primary slot safety, playing 510 snaps there. Williams, meanwhile, spent the majority of his college snaps at Oregon playing closer to the line of scrimmage, which included 604 at the nickel.

“Those guys we added are versatile pieces,” said Vice President of Player Personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan. “We feel like Bullard can play nickel or safety (and) we feel like Williams has that flexibility.”

Keisean Nixon returned this offseason, signing a three-year deal with the Packers. For the first time in his career in 2023, he was the primary nickel defender, allowing a completion rate of 78 percent at 9.7 yards per catch with five pass breakups and one interception.

As the Packers secondary experienced ups and downs last season, whether that be due to injuries or inconsistent play, Nixon’s presence was one of the constants–although upgrading this specific position, even with Nixon back on the team, should have always been a door that was kept open.

Brian Gutekunst said during the NFL Owners’ meetings that re-signing Nixon was a ‘high priority” during free agency, and defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley views him as a good fit for his scheme.

“We’re excited about what (Nixon) can do for our defense. I think bringing in Jeff Hafley and give him some time to really study Keisean and make sure that that was a fit was important,” Gutekunst said. “He’s very excited to have him back as well.”

All offseason, when asked about the safety position, Gutekunst has stressed the importance of versatility, specifically mentioning that he wants the nickel and two safety spots to be “interchangeable,” as he put it.

This ability expands what Hafley can do from a game-planning perspective and also causes some confusion for opponents, who can’t necessarily get a beat on who is doing what based on who is on the field or even where they are lined up.

Bullard and Williams add this dimension to the position group, while Nixon does not. However, there is certainly something to be said about having NFL experience. At a minimum, competition – which was missing in the slot – has been added to the roster.

In addition to the typical coverage responsibilities that come with being a cornerback, the nickel defender also plays a key role in run defense and will be asked to blitz, especially in Hafley’s defense where, at Boston College anyways, five or six-man pressures on third downs weren’t uncommon.

Understandably so, a lot of focus this offseason has been on the Packers shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and what linebacker will fill which role. But as Gutekunst has pointed out repeatedly, this is a nickel league, and that makes the slot cornerback a very important role to fill, with that player being a defacto starter.

“Bullard’s lined up at nickel, he’s played safety,” added Sullivan. “With Williams in particular, he’s played more safety but especially at the Senior Bowl you watched him and change directions and do those kinda things, he was a very, very efficient mover in short space, which is what you’d like your nickel to be. So we felt pretty good about that.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire