After eight consecutive playoff appearances including a Super Bowl Championship following the 2010 season, the Packers have fallen on hard times. Going 7-9 in 2017, the Packers went 6-9-1 last season, their worst since 2008. While there are needs on both sides of the ball, the Packers were 22nd in fewest points allowed at 25 per game. Their pass defense was torched for 30 touchdowns and 100.9 opposing quarterback pass rating. The selection of Rashan Gary with their first pick should provide added passing rush, but he may need a season or two to have a significant, consistent impact. However, the selection of safety Darnell Savage with the 21st pick overall could pay immediate dividends.
Savage was a two-way player coming out of high school, rushing for nearly 1300 yards and making 54 tackles as a senior. He played in ten games as a freshman at Maryland, most as a reserve. Savage made a significant contribution as a sophomore, recording 59 tackles, including 3.5 for loss of yardage and an interception. Gaining recognition as a junior, Savage was honorable mention All-Big Ten after making 59 tackles and intercepting three passes. Continuing his stellar play as a senior, Savage displayed a nose for the football, intercepting four passes while registering 5.5 tackles for loss of yardage.
Coming into the NFL, Savage has average size at 5’ 11” and just under 200 pounds. He shows quick feet and very good speed at just under 4.4 for the 40 yard dash. In fact, his 4.36 in the 40 was the fourth among all defensive backs at the combine. He can use his strong, physical play to cover big receivers and the speed to cover fast receivers. Savage clearly has good ball skills as shown by his passes defensed and interceptions while at Maryland. While possibly not suited to cover the better tight ends in the NFL, Savage has the skills to be an NFL starter.
How do his skills fit in with the Packers defensive scheme? While people may want to look at his speed, Savage talks about how speed without football knowledge means very little. He contends that his know-how enables him to make the most of his speed, enabling him to quickly close on balls. As a safety, Savage knows he must be the quarterback on defense, knowing where everyone is on the field, all being on the same wavelength.
The Packers are without Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice, both starters at safety last season. The Packers used Josh Jones and Tramon Williams at the position near the end of last season, but Williams is likely to head to cornerback. The Packers added strong safety Adrian Amos after signing him to a four-year deal via free agency. That still leaves an opening at free safety. The competition at the position for Savage includes Jones and Raven Greene. With the huge need for speed at free safety, Savage should have the upper hand on Green, who is mainly a strong safety. Savage may start the season as the back up to Jones. He will likely see significant time on the field and will end up the starter sooner rather than later and be the back impact player the Packers desperately need to upgrade their pass defense.
Plenty of hype going around about next year’s Packer defense, but there are so many variables in play next year that I would not be willing to wager much at this point. For the brave, you can always check out sport betting lines at 888 Sport New Jersey. Personally, I fully expect the first few Packer games next season to be as much as a disaster as last year. However, I can finally say for the first time in a while that they are headed in the right direction and finally making some good decisions. Mike Pettine will have the resources his system deserves, but I am not expecting a 2009 New York Jets level of defense from the team just yet.