With the draft and the bulk of free agency completed, NFL teams are looking forward to the start of training camp and preseason. However, for Packers fans, one of the biggest questions on the roster remains. What is Green Bay going to do at safety? Adrian Amos has not been re-signed, and Darnell Savage is presumably going to spend most of his time at slot corner. Green Bay signed Tarvarius Moore and drafted Anthony Johnson Jr. over the offseason, but both players are question marks as starters. Rudy Ford, who flashed when he got on the field in 2022, could be an option. However, he has never started a full season at safety either.
Enter Jonathan Owens, recently signed by Green Bay. In 2022, Owens held down a starting spot for the Texans, playing in all 17 games. Over 970 snaps on defense, he recorded 125 tackles, a sack, and 4 PBUs. Although there will likely still be a camp competition at the safety position, Owens stands a good chance at winning one of the starting spots available. So, what does he bring to the Packers?
In 2022, Owens spent much of his time with the Texans playing as a single-high or two-high safety. When he did drop down into the box, he demonstrated excellent physicality and aggressiveness. In a man alignment over the Jaguars’ tight end here, Owens (#36) IDs the run, triggers, and plays through contact to make the tackle.
Owens operates with good, though not overwhelming athleticism. When asked to play the run from the roof, his processing and play identification is quick. Much of the time, he takes good angles and shows an excellent ability to track the near hip of the ballcarrier.
As a single-high safety in this clip, he maintains vision on the running back and shows off some burst to close on the ball and make a touchdown-saving tackle.
There were a few frustrating instances where he was too aggressive with his initial steps, forcing him to flatten out his path as a run bounced outside and hindering his tackling angle. However, these moments were few, and he demonstrated good overall process tracking runners in space. Playing from depth to the single-receiver side, he processes the run and does a beautiful job chasing down the runner, maintaining leverage against cutbacks, and breaking down at the point of attack.
As a tackler, Owens is good at the point of attack, breaking down with choppy steps and maintaining a balanced stance to react to jukes and jab steps. As a robber safety away from the three-receiver side in Cover 1, he identifies the screen, closes the distance quickly, and makes an excellent tackle.
There were a few instances where he seemed overeager to protect inside cutback angles, putting him just behind an ideal tackle position on the near hip of the ballcarrier. Despite these few inconsistencies, however, there were very few missed tackles on his film. Even when not the primary tackler, Owens plays with excellent effort, frequently flying in to help teammates complete stops.
Owens plays with enough athleticism to fulfill a multitude of coverage roles, though he may not possess the explosive change-of-direction to survive in man coverage against wide receivers or twitchier tight ends. The biggest flaw in his game was occasional difficulty in identifying and covering Over routes from a single-high post zone.
This may be something that can be fixed with a new situation and different coaching staff, since his vision in two-high zones, especially Quarters, was excellent. Aligned as a Quarters safety to the running back’s side in this clip, Owens does a fantastic job maintaining his leverage on the route and breaking on the throw.
He flashed multiple times mirroring and breaking on routes while playing Quarters and its variations. The Texans are playing an offshoot of Quarters coverage in this next clip, which solos the backside CB on the isolated receiver in 3×1 so that the safety to that side can rob vertical routes from the #3 receiver. As the poaching safety, Owens identifies the bender route coming from #3 and reads the QB’s eyes to break on the ball, nearly coming up with a pick.
Owens appeared to be intelligent as an overall defender. As a coverage player, he demonstrated proactive communication multiple times. Spinning back into a Cover 2 deep zone here, he sees Travis Kelce bend his route across the field and immediately communicates the adjustment to the rest of the secondary. With both Kelce’s route and the post route coming from the other side of the field blanketed, Mahomes is forced to take the underneath throw.
When considering the inconsistencies in Owens’ game, it’s important to recognize that, despite being 27, he has only limited playing experience. After going undrafted in 2018, his first season starting was his last with the Texans. According to PFF, he played a grand total of 178 defensive snaps in his first three years with Houston. He is not a perfect player – but he may be an ascending one. Based on his 2022 tape, the Packers could very well have secured a solid starter on the cheap. Green Bay has done a great job finding hidden gems in free agency over the last couple years. Owens could very well be another example of this success.
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