Darnell Savage Jr’s highlight package shows the sizzle, but the Green Bay Packers’ 21-year-old first-round pick boasts the steak to go along with it. Savage resembled a heat-seeking missile at Maryland, breaking up passes, flying downhill to light up ball carriers, and making plays in the back end.
Designing a player to fit next to Adrian Amos in just about any defense would likely result in a player with Savage’s game — someone who could cover in the slot, defend the run, and play in the back end where Amos’ relative lack of speed and playmaking ability would be balanced. But don’t take that to imply that Amos as Steady Eddy means Savage will be a high-variance player in the NFL. He likely will be as a rookie because, well, he’s a rookie. That’s not who Savage was in college, however.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Savage hasn’t given up a touchdown since 2016, going two full seasons without allowing a score despite playing in coverage all over the field for the Terrapins. Savage scored more touchdowns (two) than he allowed in 2017 and 2018 combined. That doesn’t portend a high-variance risk taker on the back end.
There’s also reason to believe Savage could be even better in each area moving forward. Tom Silverstein reported Savage shaved more than .15 off his 40 time in the lead up to the draft by re-shaping his body. He leaned up, added explosiveness and went from a player running in the 4.5’s to someone who posted a ridiculous 4.36 at the combine, one of just a handful of safeties in the league to run a 4.4 40 or faster.
Players often shave off time simply by improving their form, nuances of the sprint itself etc. On the other hand, better form and a little extra quick twitch muscle no doubt translates to faster play on the field. If what we saw at Maryland was a guy playing at 4.5 and if he’s more like a 4.4 guy now — let alone 4.36 — that split-second could be the difference between a catch and a pass defensed, between a breakup and an interception.
Combine those two premises and the Packers have a player who could become even more reliable in the back end once he gets up to speed with the NFL. It’s hard to give up touchdowns or big plays with that kind of explosiveness, provided Savage uses it in the correct direction. That added burst should also make it easier for him to create the kind of splash plays that became an essential part of his game in college as someone with 7 interceptions and 11 passes defended over the last two seasons.
Putting that level of work in likewise reflects well on Savage’s worth ethic and character. Such commitment provides no assurances Savage will be a good player, but offers evidence that he’s going to put in the work to get better. Upside isn’t just about athletic ability, of which Savage has plenty, but also, importantly, the determination from a player to put in the work to get better.
If the Packers are getting someone even more gifted than they believed, a player who already flashed reliability and dynamic playmaking ability, it follows they’ll have faith in him to improve each of those areas moving forward. If he can, Green Bay solidifies a position of need since Nick Collins’ career was cut short and Brian Gutekunst will have hit on another swaggering, speedy defensive back in the first round.