Packers’ rookie safeties bringing ‘aggressive play style’ to secondary

Three of the Green Bay Packers’ first eight picks in the 2024 NFL draft were spent on the safety position, and there are two characteristics that stand out as common traits among this group: versatility and their aggressive play style.

As we’ve pontificated about who would be Xavier McKinney’s running mate this season, versatility has been a focal point of that discussion, with GM Brian Gutekunst often mentioning that ideally, he wants the two safety spots and the nickel to be “interchangeable.”

The three safeties that the Packers drafted all bring that element to the defense. Javon Bullard and Evan Williams can both handle nickel and deep safety duties, while Oladapo is more concerned with the traditional safety of the group.

“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. We feel like Williams has that flexibility, and Oladapo is probably more of a true safety but he can play the, whatever you want to coin it, big nickel, will backer. So those guys are all movable pieces.”

As Jeff Hafley discussed in detail during his introductory press conference, the safety position plays an important role in his defense, and when you add versatility to the equation, there becomes a level of unpredictability that the offense has to contend with.

Partnering with that versatility at the safety position, the Packers have also brought in three safeties who have an aggressive, fly-around-the-field mentality. The trio of Bullard, Williams, and Oladapo all have good ball production from their college days, along with being capable tacklers and willing to help in the run game.

“The thing that we liked about all of them is they have a very, very aggressive play style,” added Sullivan. “They’ll get off the spot and come get it. That’s something that was attractive to us. So yeah, we’re glad to add them to the room. They’re the right kind of guys to put in the locker room. This game’s very important to them, it means something. Just glad to add them to the equation.”

Gutekunst and his staff were obviously very intentional about bringing in this type of player to the safety position. But this is a transformation that the entire defense is going under.

We’ve also seen it in this draft at linebacker with the additions of Edgerrin Cooper and Ty’Ron Hopper, but Jeff Hafley and his coaching staff bring a different type of energy as well.

Naturally, much of the focus this offseason has been on the Packers’ shift from a 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3. But as Matt LaFleur made clear when he hired Hafley, the 4-3 system is just a by-product of hiring Hafley. LaFleur didn’t set out to shift to a 4-3, he instead wanted to hire the right person, and part of that decision was the energy that Hafley brings each day.

“If you want your players to bring great energy every day,” said LaFleur, “if you don’t do it as a coach then there’s a problem there. I can’t demand that out of our guys and not expect that out of myself or our coaches. No matter what you’re coaching. Yeah, the energy is an important piece to that.

“You said it, in terms of, I do think the relationships are where anything starts in this business. Whether it’s myself to our staff, and our staff to our players, and our players to our players, the more we can get to know one another I think the trust builds and when you get trust, you get guys fighting for one another. There’s a genuine care and love for one another and that’s when you get people at their best.”

At the end of the day, what matters most is how the players perform on the field, and the jury is still out on that one. However, a 4-3 defense won’t be the only thing that’s different about the 2024 Packers’ defense. There is going to be a different energy and, from the sounds of it, a more aggressive play-style that starts with the safety position.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire