HERE’S A CLUE

It’s But­ler, in the War Room, with the 27th pick.

Packer Plus - - Front Page - By MICHAEL CO­HEN

Green Bay — As the 2015 sea­son neared its end, and the de­fense of the Green Bay Pack­ers dragged the of­fense to­ward the fin­ish line, there emerged a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween start­ing safeties Mor­gan Bur­nett and Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix. The need for tech­ni­cal de­nom­i­na­tions — free safety and strong safety — van­ished as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Ca­pers played the role of Eli Whit­ney with his in­ter­change­able parts.

The co­ex­is­tence was made pos­si­ble by the rapid as­cen­sion of Clin­ton-Dix, a sec­ond-year player who en­dured a chal­leng­ing rookie sea­son that, for a firstround pick, was closer to flop than phe­nom­e­nal. He missed a team-high 16 tack­les in 2014 and was re­spon­si­ble for 81⁄ plays of 20 yards or more.

2 But with 2015 ar­rived ma­tu­rity, con­trolled ag­gres­sion and a cock­sure ap­proach to tack­ling that pleased coaches and fans alike. He whit­tled his missed tack­les from 16 to nine. He al­lowed just three plays of 20 yards or more. He led the Pack­ers in tack­les (100) while play­ing a re­mark­able 99.8% of snaps.

“I think he’s played at a very high level in a fairly ex­posed role,” Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son said at the scout­ing com­bine. “We’ve asked him to do a lot of dif­fer­ent things like ev­ery­body else in the league in terms of their safety pro­duc­tion. But we do ask him to do a lot of dif­fer­ent things, and I think he’s done a re­ally good job.”

The high us­age rates for Clin­ton-Dix, who missed only three snaps all year, and Bur­nett, who missed only seven snaps in the 13 games he played, was a byprod­uct of both ter­rific in­ter­play and the sea­so­nend­ing neck in­jury to fel­low safety Sean Richard­son.

The Pack­ers re­tained Richard­son with a one-year, $2.55 mil­lion con­tract af­ter he signed an of­fer sheet with the Oak­land Raiders. At 6-foot-21⁄ and 216

2 pounds, Richard­son of­fered a big-bod­ied op­tion that blurred the lines of safety and line­backer. Ca­pers even de­signed a spe­cial de­fen­sive pack­age for the 2015 sea­son that put Richard­son on the field as a third safety.

But as Richard­son’s year was cut short by in­jury, the Pack­ers were left with only three avail­able op­tions: Bur­nett, Clin­ton-Dix and Chris Banjo, their spe­cial teams ace. Banjo played spar­ingly through­out the year and fin­ished with 101 snaps from scrim­mage, most of which co­in­cided with Bur­nett’s ab­sence early in the year.

With only three safeties on the ros­ter, Thomp­son might be tempted to bol­ster a thin but re­li­able unit for the Pack­ers. Per­haps he’d like to find the next Richard­son, a big-hit­ting safety who can fill the box like a line­backer. Or per­haps he’d like to find an un­der­study for Bur­nett, who along with Sam Shields are the el­dest mem­bers of the sec­ondary, en­ter­ing their eighth sea­sons in 2016.

“I think Ha Ha — each year you kind of want to sin­gle out a player who’s made a huge jump in his sec­ond year,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the scout­ing com­bine. “And he’s def­i­nitely the one this year.” 1. KARL JOSEPH West Vir­ginia, 5-foot-10, 205 pounds Low­down: Joseph missed the ma­jor­ity of his se- nior sea­son af­ter suf­fer­ing a torn ACL in Oc­to­ber, which also pre­vented him from par­tic­i­pat­ing in many of the drills at the com­bine. Started every game he played at West Vir­ginia, burst­ing out of the gates with 104 tack­les, in­clud­ing 7 tack­les for loss, as a true fresh­man en route to fresh­man All-Amer­ica hon­ors. De­vel­oped nicely over the next three years. Had five in­ter­cep­tions through the first four games prior to the ACL in­jury as a se­nior. Team captain. Good ball skills, good cov­er­age skills. Of­fers flex­i­bil­ity to play deep or in the box be­cause of his tena­cious phys­i­cal­ity. En­joys dish­ing out hits. Still re­cov­er­ing from torn ACL. Propen­sity to seek big hits can leave him out of po­si­tion at times.

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round 2. KEANU NEAL Florida, 6-0, 211, 4.62 sec­onds in the 40-yard dash Low­down: Neal caught the at­ten­tion of col­lege coaches dur­ing his ju­nior year at South Sumter High School in Bush­nell, Fla. He made an eye-pop­ping 151 tack­les that sea­son and added four in­ter­cep­tions and four forced fum­bles. He played pri­mar­ily on spe­cial teams dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son at Florida and earned a start­ing role as a sopho­more in 2014. De­cent sopho­more sea­son (45 tack­les, three in­ter­cep­tions) gave way to a stel­lar se­nior year that fea­tured 96 tack­les and a team-best 51 solo stops. Ex­plo­sive athlete who ac­cel­er­ates quickly off the snap. Loves to un­leash big hits. His 38-inch ver­ti­cal leap tied for sec­ond-best among safeties at the com­bine. Can be reck­less with his body. Misses tack­les at times.

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round 3. VONN BELL Ohio State, 5-11, 199, 4.51 Low­down: Bell was a five-star re­cruit rated among the top-30 play­ers in the coun­try com­ing out of high school. He cut his teeth as backup at the nickel po­si­tion dur­ing his true fresh­man sea­son, ap­pear­ing in 14 games and earn­ing one start. He set­tled in at safety dur­ing his sopho­more and ju­nior years, start­ing 27 games over the last two sea­sons. Pro­duced more as a sopho­more (92 tack­les, six in­ter­cep­tions) than he did as a ju­nior (65 tack­les, two in­ter­cep­tions) but en­tered the draft any­way. Still earned first-team All-Amer­ica hon­ors in 2015. Good in cov­er­age thanks to his days as a cor­ner. Quick to di­ag­nose a play and go for it. Very good hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion al­lows him to at­tack the ball in the air. Av­er­age speed. Just a tack­ler, not a big hit­ter. Teams ques­tioned his com­mit­ment. “Sit­ting down with some scouts, they was tear­ing me up a lit­tle bit,” Bell said at the com­bine. “It’s some­thing to fix, it’s not hard to fix. Just got to run to the ball a lit­tle harder.”

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round 4. DeAN­DRE HOUS­TON-CAR­SON Wil­liam & Mary, 6-1, 201, 4.54 Low­down: A Vir­ginia na­tive, Hous­ton-Car­son spent the first three years of his ca­reer as a start­ing cor­ner­back and earned All-Colo­nial Ath­letic Con­fer­ence hon­ors as a sopho­more and ju­nior. An in­jury lim­ited him to just nine games in 2014, but Hous­ton-Car­son was re­born as a safety for his se­nior year. Earned con­sen­sus first-team All-Amer­ica hon­ors in 2015 af­ter he made 109 tack­les (in­clud­ing 7 tack­les for loss), in­ter­cepted four passes, blocked two kicks and scored two touch­downs. Glides to the ball with ease. Good vi­sion left­over from his days as a high school run­ning back. Posted the fifth-fastest 40 time among safeties at the com­bine. Great cover skills. Weapon on spe­cial teams, where he blocked nine kicks dur­ing his ca­reer. Needs to im­prove his an­gles. Still learn­ing to play safety, es­pe­cially in run sup­port. Slen­der frame.

Pro­jec­tion: Third round 5. MILES KILLE­BREW South­ern Utah, 6-2, 217, 4.65 Low­down: Kille­brew was a four-year starter at South­ern Utah and earned some form of All-Big Sky recog­ni­tion in every sea­son. His big frame is com­pa­ra­ble to many of the safety/line­backer hy­brid play­ers that are pop­u­lar in this year’s draft, though Kille­brew is a ca­reer safety. He posted back-to-back sea­sons with over 100 tack­les, peak­ing with a team-high 132 as a se­nior. Ter­rific tack­ler who is not afraid to un­leash ma­jor hits. Not shy tak­ing on block­ers in the box, ei­ther. Tested very well rel­a­tive to other safeties at the com­bine: first in bench press (22 reps); tied for sec­ond in ver­ti­cal leap (38 inches); third in broad jump (127 inches). Does not an­tic­i­pate very well. Ques­tions about his cov­er­age abil­ity.

Pro­jec­tion: Third round BEST OF THE REST

6. T.J. Green, Clem­son; 7. Jalen Mills, Louisiana State; 8. Jeremy Cash, Duke; 9. Dar­ian Thomp­son, Boise State; 10. KJ Dil­lon, West Vir­ginia

In­side: Michael Co­hen’s mock draft; de­fen­sive back rank­ings

CHARLES LE­CLAIRE / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

West Vir­ginia’s Karl Joseph projects as a sec­ond-round pick and is the top prospect among safeties.

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