The Green Bay Packers are 13-3, and there is a strong chance that they would not be getting a playoff bye without the contributions of a few of the team’s rookies in 2019. While top draft pick Rashan Gary worked in a rotational role in his first season, the next two players in the rookie class were nearly-instant starters, playing critical roles throughout the season.
Safety Darnell Savage, Jr. was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, forming a new pair of starting safeties with free agent signee Adrian Amos. The tandem have provided a tremendous upgrade at the position from the players in recent years, with Amos’ steady presence allowing Savage to roam and take more risks with his excellent athleticism.
This season, Savage was on the field for about 83 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps. He suffered an injury early on against the Cowboys in week six, missing much of that game and sitting out the Packers’ next two contests. Outside of that absence, he was on the field for all but two snaps, serving as a critical piece of the secondary. Savage finished the season with 55 total tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
As a result of this very good rookie year, Savage was named as one of the two safeties on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie team for 2019, joining the Chiefs’ Juan Thornhill. PFF credited him with the 29th-best coverage grade among safeties this year, putting him well within the top third of all players at the position across the league.
However, he was not even the best rookie on his own team. That honor goes to left guard Elgton Jenkins, whom the Packers drafted 44th overall in round two and who also made the All-Rookie team. Unlike Savage, Jenkins was not given the starting role out of the gate, but was in competition with Lane Taylor throughout the preseason. And although Taylor won the job to start the year, Jenkins began trading playing time with him in week two before taking over the job in week three following an injury that landed the veteran on injured reserve.
Jenkins did not miss a single offensive snap after that, becoming a tremendous anchor on the interior of the line. Indeed, PFF graded him as one of the ten best left guards in the league this season, as he did not allow a single sack all year. Not surprisingly, he was the best rookie guard in the league and looks to have his spot locked down in the starting lineup for years to come.
While the Packers did not get much production from the remainder of this year’s draft class on the stat sheet, Savage and Jenkins proved to be a tremendous core to build around. Hopefully Gary will continue his development and the remainder of the players improve into valuable role players down the road. But so far, Brian Gutekunst’s 2019 draft class looks like a smashing success thanks to these two selections.