Packers Safety Morgan Burnett: More Valuable Than We Think? All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Morgan Burnett
Burnett offers a lot of promise for a young Packers secondary (Photo from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

In looking at the Pro Football Focus grades for Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett’s 2012 season, something stood out to me.  The longest pass that he was charged with this past season was 27 yards.  It’s never good to give up long pass plays and a 27 yarder is nothing to be proud of.  I also realize that it may have been one of the two tocuhdowns that Burnett was charged with.  I didn’t dig that far, but I’m looking at this from a “face value” perspective.

It made me wonder if Burnett is more valuable to the Packers defense than most would think.  Let’s look at this little nugget a bit further.

Of all NFL safeties who played at least 1,000 snaps in 2012, only TJ Ward of the Cleveland Browns’ 22 yard longest pass allowed was shorter than Burnett’s.  Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark played 909 snaps and his longest pass allowed was just 18 yards.

Again, there are a lot of factors that go into these stats such as defensive scheme, the other defensive backs around a player, the team’s pass rush and time opposing quarterbacks had in the pocket, etc.  So with that in mind, let’s simply look at the fact that the Packers faced Detroit’s Calvin Johnson twice and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall twice.  No small task and one that certainly requires safety help.

Johnson was the league’s best wide receiver in terms of yards in 2012.  The argument can be made that defenses were more able to double and triple Johnson because there was no clear #2 receiver opposite him.  That’s true, but Johnson is the type of receiver who can still take over and get his yards anyway.  To game plan and cover him takes 60 minutes of being aware of where he is at all times.  One of the touchdowns that Burnett was charged with came against Johnson.  It should have been an interception.  Burnett let the ball slip through his hands but he was in perfect position to pick it off at the goal line.

The Packers also faced Chicago’s Brandon Marshall twice and while Burnett didn’t do it alone, he was key in nearly shutting Marshall down in week two.  While there were no deep balls to defend in that game, Burnett should be credited for not allowing any to develop also.  In the second matchup, Marshall’s longest catch was just 15 yards.

In the two games against the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers didn’t see receiver Percy Harvin but should he remain with the Vikings, Harvin will present his usual set of problems for the Packers secondary in 2013.  Burnett will play a vital role in coraling the shifty Harvin.

That’s just the NFC North and there were many other top-tier pass catchers the Packers saw last season.  When a team has a lead, opposing offenses tend to throw more and throw deep to try and catch up.  Having a steady safety is a must.  Burnett’s 27 yard longest pass in 2012 was a big improvement from the year prior.  In 2011, Burnett allowed passes of 34, 44 and 45 yards.  Whatever deserves the credit, be it scheme or Burnett’s improved play, there was an improvement.

It should be noted that in 2012, Burnett allowed more plays of 20+ yards than he did in 2011 so I am not trying to leave that out.  But also consider that this past season, he was playing along side of two rookies at safety as well as one at cornerback in that of Casey Hayward.  There is something to be said for both his coverage and ensuring that the others were in the right spot as well.

In looking ahead, 2013 is a season in which many will be watching to see if Burnett can turn the corner and become one of the top play makers in the Green Bay defense.  He will also be one of the team’s veteran leaders and especially of the defensive backs with the loss of Charles Woodson.  With many still hoping the Packers can replace Nick Collins, Burnett offers the most promise.  A player like Collins is very rare and comes along only once in a long while.  I don’t see Burnett ever getting to that level, but he does offer the promise of continued improvement and being a steady rock in the defensive backfield.

I gave Burnett a C in my player evaluation and report card post.  That is an overall grade that involves more than just pass coverage.  I certainly expect Burnett to exceed that mark in 2013 and continue to keep opposing and especially top wide receivers out of the end zone.


Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on

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9 thoughts on “Packers Safety Morgan Burnett: More Valuable Than We Think?

  1. Burnett was also one of only two (I believe) defensive players to play 100% of his team’s snaps last year. On this injury prone team, that means a lot.

    Hopefully he can continue to elevate his game in the coming season. It sure would be nice to have a reliable young leader on this defense with some big time playmaking ability.

    1. I kinda think the reason he doesn’t make more plays is because of all the injuries. With the revolving secondary around him, especially rotating two 1st yr players at SS, Burnett was probably tasked with covering up for those other players. Perhaps, with a year of experience for guys like McMillian, Hayward and even House, the coaches will have more faith in their ability (no duh with Hayward) and will allow Burnett to freelance a little more in coverage. I think Burnett may be where Collins was early in his career – the Green Bay defense was pretty bad in his first few years, but once he was allowed to take chances on plays, his numbers jumped.

  2. Lets not forget that he provided one of the few defensive highlights in that dreadful Giants playoff loss when he picked off Manning.

  3. I know this isn’t the correct place for LB comments…but…

    Number of players that tested at the combine better than AJ Hawk in:
    40yd: 2
    Bench: 8
    Vertical: 1
    Broad Jump: 19
    3 cone: 1
    Shuttle: 0

    Hawk had the measureables and I know you can’t measure heart and anticipation. But, none of the LBs at the combine impressed me from a “numbers” standpoint, and I’m okay with that.
    I’m not looking to spark debate or defend Hawk. Just trying to provide some fyi.

    1. Hawk has the physical tools, but as coaches have alluded to over the past couple of years, he lacks “instincts” that would enable him to make plays. The coaches seem to feel that he is very “assignment correct”, and is somewhat reluctant to “pull the trigger” , afraid to make mistakes.

      1. Hawk has everything but a feeling for the game! He reminds me of all the LB’s you see every year at the combine that are workout warriors. They do well in shorts, but really can’t play!

        1. Moss was quoted last year saying that that they were trying to get Hawk to “pull the trigger” and trust his instincts to make more plays…said this when questioned about why Hawk doesn’t make plays. Said he was “over worried” about being “assignment sure” which is good but doesn’t allow him to play more instinctively.

  4. Burnett had a good solid season last year and took his game up a notch. Now the Packers need Burnett to take a jump in play like Collins did in his 4th season. Collins had 4 int’s in his 1st 3 years, Burnett has 6 after 3 years. Collins had 17? in the next 3 seasons. If Burnett can take a similar path, the Packers will have a playmaker in the secondary like they had in Collins.

    Burnett is one of the players in a similar position to take that next step. We need one or 2 of them to step it up to make the Packers D a force again. Perry, Hayward, Neal are others. Lets hope a couple to them take that step!

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