Anthony Johnson Jr. is a 2023 seventh-round rookie who is competing for a starting safety spot on the Green Bay Packers. He played collegiately at Iowa State and was a cornerback his first four years before converting to safety as a fifth-year Senior. He had his best season statistically when he moved to safety with 60 tackles and two interceptions, and he was named Second Team All Big-12. Johnson Jr. is new to the safety position and at Iowa State, he played in the funky 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
He has only played the safety position for one year in college and has gotten better each week. Outside of the Kayshon Boutte touchdown against the Patriots, he has graded out average by PFF over the three preseason games. The Packers aren’t looking for Johnson Jr. to be an All-Pro safety, but they need somebody decent in coverage, a good tackler, and isn’t afraid to make a stop in run support.
The theme of the Packer’s offseason has been a youth movement that has resulted in moving on from veterans who would help this team win in the short term. Look no further than not re-signing Adrian Amos, who has a $7.9 million cap hit this season. The Packers have had every opportunity to sign or trade for a veteran safety who could help the team win this year, and they haven’t, even though Jonathan Owens has been disappointing and Rudy Ford hasn’t stood out like you would have hoped. Every inch of this roster is full of young players with potential but are inexperienced, and Anthony Johnson Jr. is no different.
The Green Bay Packers seventh-round rookie, Anthony Johnson Jr., has been impressive at safety and deserves a chance to start.
This year for the Packers is a developmental year for much of the roster, and it is about evaluating this team’s young talent. The safety room has underwhelmed this training camp and preseason, but one bright spot has been Johnson Jr. in the last few preseason games. He has played 79 snaps across three preseason games and has a PFF grade of 74.2. Johnson Jr. has been running with the second-team defense over the past couple of weeks but has played well enough to earn some reps with the first team in practice. He has also contributed to special teams and started on two units this preseason.
Rudy Ford is slated to be the starting safety, as he has been starting alongside Darnell Savage off and on in the last few weeks of practice and the last preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. Ford re-signed this summer on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, and the Packers have shown the willingness to cut veterans in favor of a younger player like Pat O’Donnell and Daniel Whelan.
Here is what Brian Gutekunst said about balancing short-term vs. long-term success regarding roster decisions: “ The goal here is to win a championship…. And sometimes you have to create room to get better. You can’t get better without playing…. It’s not easy, growing pains are never easy, but if we’re going to win a championship, we have to get better. We weren’t good enough last year, we have to get better. And sometimes you have to create opportunities for that to happen.”
Johnson Jr. is the only safety on the Packers who has team control after this year, and to get better, he needs to see the field. If the Packers truly embrace the youth movement, Johnson Jr. should be the starter next to Darnell Savage.