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Potential safety targets in 2024 draft for Jeff Hafley’s Packers defense

If the Green Bay Packers were to play a game this Sunday, they’d roll out Anthony Johnson Jr and Benny Sapp III as their two starting safeties. With Darnell Savage Jr, Rudy Ford and Jonathon Owens set to be free agents, Brian Gutekunst will need to get new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley some safety help this offseason.

“I think it’s an important spot,” Hafley said during his introductory press conference on Thursday. “I think that guy back in the middle of the field, when things break down – when they throw the ball up in the air, he has to go and get it. I think it’s a very important spot in the defense.”

As a team last season the Packers picked off just seven passes, with three of those interceptions coming from the safety group. If it’s up to Hafley, that number will rise during his first season as defensive coordinator at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

“I want a guy who can erase things,” Hafley said. “We gotta eliminate explosive plays when we play this defense, so if a run hits up the middle, this guy’s gotta come out of the middle field with his hair on fire, he’s gotta be able to get a guy down. I also want him to be a guy, when a ball carrier is wrapped up, he goes and he finishes off the pile. I want a guy who can go from sideline to sideline and take the ball away. I think that position has to be a guy with high ball production, meaning he’s gotta be able to intercept the ball. He’s gotta be a guy that can communicate and he’s gotta be a guy that can get guys lined up and make some calls back there and I’d love a guy that can play man, so I guess I’m describing the perfect player to you, but those are some of the traits I’d look for in playing that position.”

There is a lot to digest from what Hafley looks for out of his safeties. Let’s take a look at some defensive backs that fit the bill and that could be targets for the Packers in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

Cooper DeJean, DB, Iowa

Yes, technically DeJean is listed as a cornerback. If the Packers zone in on the Iowa product, they’d likely view him as a hybrid defensive back. He has the rangy athleticism to play centerfield to be the field eraser that Hafley described. He’s quick to trigger coming downhill in run support. Most importantly, DeJean has natural ball skills. Over the past two seasons, DeJean picked off seven passes, broke up 13 passes and scored three touchdowns. He’s the playmaker that Hafley’s defensive scheme needs.

Tyler Nubin, S, Minnesota

While Nubin may not be the rangiest of safeties in this class he checks a lot of boxes with his ball production and willingness in run support. He’s the first natural safety that came to mind when listening to Hafley describe what he looks for in a safety. 

The Gopher safety is a great communicator from the backend and recognizes route concepts. He’s rarely out of position and doesn’t give up explosive plays. He keeps everything in front of him. A former high school wide receiver, Nubin has natural ball skills and finished his career with 13 interceptions. As a run defender, he has the downfield burst and takes proper angles to the ball carrier.

Kamren Kinchens, S, Miami

When talking about natural safeties, Kinchens may have the range in this draft class. He covers a lot of real estate in the backend. Over the past two seasons, the Miami safety picked off 11 passes and broke up 11 more. He understands route combinations and has good field vision. While he’s a willing participant in run support, he’s prone to the occasional whiff (24 missed tackles over the past two seasons). 

Javon Bullard, DB, Georgia

Bullard has the toolkit to be a high-end hybrid defensive back. A former track athlete, Bullard recorded four interceptions and eight pass deflections over the past two seasons. He has the fluidity and short-area quickness to line up in the slot and the range to cover the backend. He flies downhill in run support and packs a little punch when he arrives. 

Calen Bullock, S, USC

The USC safety may have the most natural ball skills of any safety in this draft class. He plays the ball like a wide receiver and finished his career at USC with nine interceptions and 15 pass deflections. He has disciplined eyes and covers a lot of real estate. His poor tackling may keep him off Green Bay’s board. 

Beau Brade, DB, Maryland

The Maryland product brings a versatile skill set. He can play in the box, in the slot or high. He has a quick trigger coming downhill, but will need to clean up his tackling (35 missed tackles over the past two seasons). He has good field vision and is an explosive mover.

Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, DB, Texas Tech

The Texas Tech defensive back has a radar for the football. Over the past three seasons, Taylor-Demerson has picked off 10 passes and recorded 33 pass deflections. He has true centerfield range and a high football IQ with good route instincts. Taylor-Demerson has outstanding closing burst when he attacks downhill against the run.

Malik Mustapha, DB, Wake Forest

If Hafley wants a defensive back that plays with his hair on fire, he may fall in love with Mustapha. He’s as tough as nails and flies downhill in run support. He plays with a thumper mentality and lays the wood upon arrival. The Wake Forest defensive back is at his best coming downhill, he has enough range to play in the backend.

Sione Vaki, DB, Utah

Another player that plays like his hair is on fire. The Utah defensive back is a heat-seeking missile and he wants to knock you into another dimension. He’s an explosive athlete and is quick to process the action in front of him. He’s a versatile prospect who can wear multiple hats in Hafley’s defense.

Cole Bishop, S, Utah

The Utah safety is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but he’s capable of filling multiple roles for a defense. Whether he’s playing in the slot, in the box or deep, Bishop is always around the football. 

Jaden Hicks, S, Washington State

Like Bishop, Hicks is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage. That doesn’t mean he can’t roam the middle of Hafley’s defense. Hicks is an active run defender and explodes downhill to meet the ball carrier. Line him up in the box, in the slot or deep, it doesn’t matter, the physicality that Hicks plays with is exactly what Green Bay’s defense needs. He’s another safety who plays with a relentless energy that Hafley is looking for as he looks to build this defense. 

Josh Proctor, S, Ohio State

Hafley coached Proctor during the 2019 season at Ohio State. Talk to anybody around that covered Ohio State this past season and they’ll tell you Proctor was one of the leaders on that defense. He’s a cerebral player who is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type prospect. He’s just a well-rounded player that can wear multiple hats.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire