GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 11: S Darnell Savage (5-11, 198, second season, Maryland)
Eight players took snaps at safety in 2018. Of the group’s three interceptions, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had them all – and he was traded at midseason. Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice and Josh Jones all played 450-plus snaps at safety, with Jermaine Whitehead on pace to hit that number if not for his midseason release. None of them saw the light of day in 2019.
With that, it’s little wonder that the Packers essentially started from scratch last offseason by signing veteran Adrian Amos and trading up in the first round to land Darnell Savage. Savage, a hard-hitting playmaker at Maryland with the type of center-field speed the Packers hadn’t had since Nick Collins, had an up-and-down rookie season. “He’s obviously a premier athlete,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after drafting him.
On the plus side, he allowed 0.39 yards per coverage snap and 32.1 snaps per reception allowed, figures that ranked 26th and 19th, respectively, out of 65 safeties to play at least half the passing-game snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He had two interceptions (and dropped two more), a team-high two forced fumbles and seven passes defensed. That production is why he earned a spot on the all-rookie team.
“Yeah, it was unfortunate last year he had a bit of slow start coming out of training camp, but I just think he really improved as the season went on just having an understanding of not just we were doing but what offenses were trying to do,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said during an offseason Zoom call. “I just think the biggest adjustment, not just for him but for most young safeties, is the speed of the game, the speed at which the processing has to occur, the mental part of it, how quickly and accurately the communication needs to be made, communicated, and just the speed of receivers and running backs and dealing with that aspect of it. He made great strides I thought as the year went on. I think the sky’s the limit for Darnell. He was everything that we saw in him from a physical and mental standpoint. Obviously, he had some rookie hiccups, but this is a guy that we have; he has big expectations of himself and those match the expectations that we have for him.”
The hiccups were obvious, and the Packers need better in the long run if the defense is going to be a legit championship-caliber unit. He missed an incredible number of tackles, an obvious problem at his position, when he’s often the last line of defense. PFF charged him with 14 misses and the second-worst missed-tackle rate among the 63 safeties who played at least half the defensive snaps.
“I feel as though as coming into Year 2, we have the same secondary so he knows where I’m going to be, who the corners are and things like that. I feel like he can make a big jump in that way,” Amos said during his offseason Zoom. “He’s a very smart football player. He picked up on everything really fast. He’s only going to get better with time. Just learning the speed of the game. Learning there’s certain things you can get away with in college that you can’t in the pros. I think he excelled and he improved week-to-week. With this offseason and then getting next season going, I feel as far as the mental aspect – not just learning the plays but learning NFL offenses and what they like to do to attack you.”
Why he’s so important: As a first-round pick coming off an all-rookie season, there are great expectations for bigger and better things in Year 2. He simply must become a better tackler. That’s more technique than will, though. There is little depth behind the starters, and certainly there’s no one on the roster with his ability to cover from sideline to sideline. “His ability to get off the hash and close gaps and trigger in the run game, I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Gutekunst said at the end of the season. He’s also a potential candidate to take the snaps in the slot. It’s a role he played at Maryland and occasionally as a rookie.