How the Packers’ three new safeties will change their defense radically for the better

While some teams on this list chose to overhaul their cornerbacks this offseason, the Packers went safety first under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. First, there was the signing of former Giants star Xavier McKinney to a four-year, $67 million contract with $23 million guaranteed. Then in the draft, the Packers got Georgia’s Javon Bullard with the 58th overall pick in the second round. Then, the addition of Oregon State’s Kitan Oladapo with the 169th pick in the fifth round.

Necessary changes for a defense that ranked 27th in 2023, and 25th the year before, under Joe Barry. Moreover, all three players are fairly interchangeable in the defense. This is especially true of Bullard, who transitioned from a slot/box defender in 2022 to a free safety in 2023, and did it all without a hitch. Last season, Bullard allowed 14 catches on 26 targets for 119 yards, 68 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of

“I think probably his ability to maybe play more nickel than some of those guys,” assistant director of college scouting Patrick Moore said of Bullard’s attributes. “We felt like him at the second level, playing that slot and playing a little bit more nickel, with the ability to play safety as well was probably a strength. Just really we have a good feel for him and who he is and what he’s going to bring to our defense intangible-wise, too. That’s just where we had him stacked.”

“As far as my role, man, just being — really doing whatever the team needed me to do, man,” Bullard told reporters after he was drafted. “It was some cases where as far as my sophomore year at nickel, there were some cases where I was more involved in the run game and more involved in blitz packages and things like that and also more involved in man to man coverage, being able to cover slot receivers and things like that. As far as safety, we lost a great player in Chris Smith to the NFL, as well, so like I said, just being that versatile Swiss Army knife that the team needs, whatever they ask me to do, I will definitely do that and I try to do it at a high level.”

Bullard has already proven all of that.

Oladapo’s responsibilities didn’t change much over his last three seasons at Oregon State — he was about equally in the box, the slot, and the deep third. Last season, he gave up 21 completions on 36 targets for 212 yards, 58 yards after the catch, one touchdown, two interceptions, seven pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 61.3.

“He’s a little different body type than the other two [McKinney and Bullard], said Jon-Eric Sullivan, vice president of player personnel, of Oladapo. “He’s a big, 6-2, 216-pound kid. Long arms. Aggressive — when he hits you, you go down. He’s a very good athlete at that size. He can pedal, he can flip, he can turn. He’s versatile, more of a true safety but he can play that big nickel or will linebacker if you need him too. The playstyle. Very smart. Captain as well. One, good football player, and two, the kind of person we want to infuse in this locker room.”

Hafley has already said that he wants his cornerbacks to play more aggressively than they did under Barry, which is a pretty low bar. One thing we know for sure is that Hafley’s safeties will be athletic, smart, versatile, and deployed in all kinds of places opponents may not expect.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire