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Unpacking Future Packers: No. 4, Washington State S Jaden Hicks

The Unpacking Future Packers Countdown is a countdown of 100 prospects that could be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2024 NFL draft.

The Green Bay Packers still have a “Help Wanted” sign above their safety room at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. With the addition of Xavier McKinney, the Packers took a giant step in improving the backend of their defense. 

Now Brian Gutekunst needs to take another step by finding McKinney a running mate. A potential target in the 2024 NFL Draft is Jaden Hicks. The Washington State safety checks in at No. 4 in the Unpacking Future Packers Countdown. 

I believe they’d pair well with each other,” Jordan Malone, the safeties and nickels coach at Washington State, said. “Xavier is one of the top safeties in the game.  Although Hicks was a leader on our defense, he is also mature enough to learn and be led by someone who is doing it at the level McKinney is doing it at.  They are both versatile…Now you have two safeties that can do multiple things in a defense.”

Hicks, a three-star recruit out of Nevada, redshirted in 2021. The following season Hicks recorded 76 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and seven pass deflections. 

This past season, Hicks recorded 79 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, including a pick-six and six pass deflections. 

“Jaden was first and foremost a leader by actions and the way he carried himself on a day-to-day basis,” Malone said. “His team-first attitude and humbleness were great for our players to see from him, given the attention he was receiving.  Jaden provided this defense with dynamic game-changing ability.”

Gutekunst wants versatility in the secondary and Hicks lined up all over the backend during his time at Washington State. He can man the slot, he can play linebacker and he can play both safety positions. 

“Jaden could play both safety positions in our defense,” Malone said “He has the body type and physical presence of a linebacker when asked to fit in the box, but also was versatile enough to make rangy plays out the middle 1/3. His skill set was perfect for our NFL-type defense.”

Hicks is an active run defender and explodes downhill to meet the ball carrier. He strikes with power and has strong hands to finish. He’s got an appetite for the physical side of the game and excels playing north to south. 

“Being disciplined in his keys,” Malone said. “His ability to close space and the angles he takes to the ball carrier has made him effective at coming downhill.”

A high school cornerback, Hicks has easy change-of-direction skills. He doesn’t have any wasted motions in coverage. He can flip his hips and run with pass catchers downfield. He’s a rangy athlete who can play centerfield. He has the short-area quickness and fluidity to match up with slot receivers and the size to match up with tight ends.

He has good reaction quickness and has budding ball skills. Over the past two seasons, Hicks recorded three interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

“We asked Jaden to play quarters and man-to-man defense in our system and he held up just fine,” Malone said. “That involved covering some of the elite tight ends and wide receivers in the Pac 12. Being a former High School cornerback helped him be successful in coverage.”    

Fit with the Packers

It would not be shocking to see the Packers select Hicks with the 25th overall pick on Thursday. 

The Washington State safety checks the boxes with his versatility, athleticism and age (22 in August).

Hicks would slide in seamlessly next to McKinney to give the Packers safety room a massive makeover. With those two pieces in place, the weakest position on the roster would go to a position of strength. 

“I’d draft Hicks because his ceiling is still far from where he is right now,” Malone said. “Jaden has only played 24-25 games at this point, so his best football is still ahead of him.  Jaden has shown growth from year to year and will continue to grow. With his size, speed, and ability to hold up physically is hard to find. You will be getting a person ready to work and do anything he can do to help a franchise.”

Line him up in the slot, in the box or deep, it doesn’t matter, the physicality that Hicks plays with is exactly what Green Bay’s defense needs. 

 

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire