Before stepping on field, Packers’ Xavier McKinney makes his mark off of it

We’ve all seen what Xavier McKinney can bring to a defense on the football field, but in early May, the Green Bay Packers are also benefitting from what he brings to the team off the field.

“It’s been so nice to have X,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley on Monday. “What a pro. How hard he works, the communication, the way he is in the meeting rooms, the way he looks out for the younger guys. That’s the stuff you don’t see.”

In just a matter of months, the Packers have rebuilt their safety position. Beyond signing McKinney in free agency, the team drafted Javon Bullard, Evan Williams, and Kitan Oladapo, who will join second-year players Anthony Johnson Jr and Benny Sapp III.

In addition to providing much-needed stability to the back end of the Packers’ defense as McKinney will fill the all-important do-it-all role at safety within Hafley’s defense, he is also going to be an integral part in the development of the young players that he shares the meeting room and field with.

“The coolest part about him is,” added Hafley, “and I told him this the other day, you don’t find out about somebody and who they are and how hard they work until they get here. That’s been the thing that’s probably made us the happiest.”

When Hafley first arrived in Green Bay and had his introductory press conference, he detailed what his version of the perfect safety would look like, which all very much sounds like what McKinney will add to this defense.

In short, a few of those traits that Hafley mentioned were the need to eliminate big plays. Well, McKinney allowed just 8.7 yards per catch in 2023, ranking seventh among safeties in that category.

Hafley wants someone who plays with his hair on fire in the run game. McKinney ranked sixth in run defense tackles last season.

Being a reliable tackler was another factor that Hafley brought up and McKinney is coming off a season in which he missed only seven of his 122 attempts. His missed tackle rate of 5.7 percent was the lowest among his positions group.

Lastly, Hafely discussed the need for high ball production. Over McKinney’s four NFL seasons, he has had nine interceptions and forced seven pass breakups over the previous two years.

Not only with a nearly entirely different safety room from a personnel standpoint but what this position is asked to do in Hafley’s defense is going to look much different.

GM Brian Gutekunst has stressed all offseason the importance of the two safety spots and the nickel cornerback being interchangeable. This will expand the playbook for Hafley in terms of what he can dial up from a game-planning perspective, and it will also add some unpredictability to the defense, keeping offenses guessing.

Given the makeup of this position group, the Packers are going to have to rely heavily on their rookies, and with that will likey be some ups and downs. However, having a player and person of McKinney’s caliber will help with the transition, and his impact will go well beyond just the safety position.

“Great pro, great attitude, great effort,” Hafley said. “He’s done a great job so far, so really excited to have him here, continue to have him grow in the scheme and really understand the scheme. I think it’s our job to put him in position to make a lot of things happen. It’s been fun to see everything that he can do and how quickly he can learn. I’m really glad we have him.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire