Hello Packer Nation!
The Packers came into 2019 draft with some heavy needs and filled the biggest ones with their first four picks in rounds 1-3. They filled a need at pass rusher, free safety, offensive line and tight end. While it is tough to know how they picks will work out before they even get on a flight to Titletown, hopes are high they will all be big contributors in their first year and beyond. Let's go through the new additions to the team.
*#12 - Rashan Gary Edge 6'4" 277 lbs. (Michigan). Gary was the top recruit in the class of 2016 coming out of high school. He was the state of New Jersey's top Defensive Player in 2014 and 2015. His immense talent led him to Michigan where high expectations were placed on him once he arrived on campus. He will have the same expectations placed on him once he comes to Green Bay.
As a freshman, Gary played in all 13 games as a backup, making 27 tackles, 5 for loss and had 1 sack. In 2017 as a sophomore, he produced 66 tackles, 12 for loss and 6 sacks in 13 starts. He earned first team all Big Ten honors. Gary was a first team all Big Ten pick as a junior but saw his production dip to 44 tackles, 7 for loss and 3.5 sacks in 12 games. He missed games due to injuries and was the attention of many offenses who played against him commanding double and triple team blocks on his fair share of plays. In preparation for the NFL draft, he skipped the teams Peach Bowl appearance.
Personally, I do not see how he fits their 3-4 scheme. I don't have a problem with the player but I do have a problem with how they are projecting him. Overall he fits better as 4-3 DE, much like Nick Perry when the Packers drafted him with their first round pick in 2012 and Datone Jones in 2013. At Gutekunst's press conference after the 1st round, Gute' said Gary will start out at OLB with the potential to rush from all areas. I am befuddled with that projection. One of his known weaknesses when you watch film is his inability to read blocks and counter. He is a "one trick pony" with his rushing repertoire and beats blocks with a quick first step and pursuit skills. His secondary moves need a ton of work. At OLB, you are tasked with reading blocks and diagnosing a rush plan with secondary moves. He never played OLB in his career and is already a project, yet they want to put him in a position he never played and requires technique and ability to read blocks, which are not strengths? If they are smart, they will plug him in at "5-technique" DE (line up over the tackle) where Muhammad Wilkerson played. While he is small for that position in 3-4, he can do it with his unique strength and athletic talents. They cannot let his size influence where they can play him.
Pettine likes rushers who are multi dimensional and can line up anywhere to diversify their blitz looks and expose match ups. My hope is they use him like Julius Peppers and allow Pettine to pick match ups Gary can exploit. I see him as a "boom or bust" pick with a ton of bust potential if they use him at OLB. He will need a ton of coaching and patience to maximize his potential.
*#21 - Darnell Savage Jr. Safety 5'11" 195 lbs. (Maryland). The Packers traded up from #30 to receive #21 pick from Seattle, giving up the Packers #114 and #118 picks in the fourth round. There were rumors that multiple teams were high on Savage before the #30 pick so Gute' aggressively made sure they could get the player they coveted. In weeks before the draft, his stock rose to where teams couldn't find ways not to like him. His game tape and talent was that impressive.
Savage's athletic skills and production at Maryland project well in the Packers scheme. He played LB, CB and safety in college. He can play anywhere and excel as a free safety, which the Packers had a huge hole before getting Savage. He a tad small but makes up for it with a nose for the ball and doesn't shy from contact. He ran a 4.36 40 time so speed is top notch. He has excellent field awareness and reads plays well. He can cover in the slot which is a prerequisite in Pettine's scheme for safeties. Pettine loves secondary players who can be interchangeable and play all over the field. Savage is skilled everywhere.
He came to Maryland after leading his high school team to a state championship as a two way player. He was a star RB and rushed for almost 1,300 yards. He played right away as a freshman at Maryland. In 10 games, he had 12 tackles. In his sophomore year, he started 12 games and had 59 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1 INT and 4 pass breakups. As a junior he produced 59 tackles, 8 pass breakups and 3 INT's, which he returned one for a TD. As a senior, he continued great production with 52 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2 pass breakups and 4 INT's. Of his 8 career INT's, he returned 2 for TD.
He will start out at free safety and will be tasked as a play maker. His unique skill set of having a nose for the ball is sorely lacking on defense. He is very natural with his movement and doesn't waste a lot of motion. His decision making is very good and takes great angles to make tackles. In run support he throws around his body around and takes great angles to avoid blockers on his way to the ball carrier. Personally, he is a great athlete and good football player which usually translates well into being a difference maker in the NFL. I think of their first four picks, he could be the best player. This guy could be the next Nick Collins.
*#44 - Elgton Jenkins OL 6'4" 312 lbs (Mississippi St). Jenkins comes from a competitive SEC conference where he faced NFL talent game in and game out. I was real concerned they wouldn't be able to fill an obvious void on the offensive line, but this pick lowered my stress levels.
Jenkins played all over the line so his versatility is intriguing for the Packers, who like their lineman to play multiple positions to improve their roster flexibility. In his redshirt freshman year, he started 3 out of 11 games with 2 at LT and 1 at RT. As a sophomore, he started 5 of 12 games with 3 starts at LT and 2 at LG. In his junior year, he moved to center and started 12 of 13 games. He was the team's best OL with his ability to read defenses and call out correct blocking assignments. As a senior he started all 13 games at center. In his last two seasons, he played a total of 1,700 snaps and gave up only 1 sack and 12 pressures, which is phenomenal in the SEC against powerhouse teams Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Texas A&M, to name a few.
Jenkins is efficient in using his power and length blocking interior DL. He does not overpower opponents but uses his quick snap recognition to get on the block and sustain. He has 34" arms which allows him to get a hold of blocks and keep them off his body. He recognizes his talents and doesn't over extend. His hands are his best trait as he locks on rushers and doesn't let them get away. His awareness allows proper adjustments on attacking linebackers/rushers which is an important trait in zone blocking scheme.
Jenkins will likely start out at guard with the potential to play center and tackle, which will increase his value on game day. Jenkins has all the skills and proven production against great talent to translate into a good NFL OL for years. He should be ready to hit the ground running from day 1. He should challenge as a starter at right guard with incoming FA Billy Turner. Depth has improved immensely.
*#75 - Jace Sternberger 6'4" 251 lbs. (Texas A&M). Jace was an All-American, first team All-SEC tight end in a very competitive conference. Once Jimbo Fisher became head coach (who came from Florida St), his game transcended upwards. He was the Aggies Offensive MVP in 2018 and had great production with 48 receptions, 832 receiving yards and 10 TD's in 12 starts in 2018.
Jace's athletic talents are not overwhelming (he ran 4.75 40 time) but when you watch him on tape he plays a lot smoother and faster. He has good "football speed" which is more important than track speed. He is smooth in and out of his breaks and catches the ball with soft hands and great hand-eye coordination. He seems very natural and athletic. His route skills are above average and he looks like a WR on tape. Jace will likely be most productive catching the ball past the line of scrimmage. He will need to improve playing strength. When defenders get their hands on him he struggles with contact. At this point he needs free breaks to be successful. Those are all things he can improve upon and will have time to develop those traits since he will not be forced to play a lot right away. His blocking needs work but he is willing.
Overall, their first four picks improve their biggest weaknesses and provide at least three players who should challenge for starting positions. I do not think they hit home runs with their picks but if these players were high on their board, it is smart to take "board players" versus over reaching to fill needs. Overall, I would rate their draft a "B" grade. I am not high the team's placement of Gary at OLB when they had better scheme value at #12 in DL Christian Wilkins. TE Noah Fant was available at #12 but overvaluing him as much as Detroit did at #8 with TJ Hockenson would have handicapped Packers draft board. Edge rusher Montez Sweat was also available but is a Gary clone for GB so they went with the higher ceiling player. Green Bay went "all in" this off season to improve the pass rush much like last off season improving the cornerback room. This will put tremendous pressure on the defense to not handicap this team like in years past. Anything less will be a huge disappointment.
On the last day of the draft, there are still some obvious holes that need to be strengthened. Interior defensive line, offensive tackle, wide receiver, running back, ILB and cornerback could use more talent and depth. They have 4 remaining picks - #150 in 5th round, #185 in 6th round, #194 in 6th round and #226 in 7th round. The team has improved so the outlook is positive.
Go Pack Go!
* Source used for blog - NFL.com Draft & Combine Pre-Draft Prospect Tracker www.nfl.com/draft/tracker/prospects