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Packers Darnell Savage, Elgton Jenkins earn praise among NFL’s best rookies

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The Packers’ second and third picks in 2019 are being recognized for excellent starts to their pro careers.

NFL: SEP 22 Broncos at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brian Gutekunst’s NFL Drafts have seemingly borne excellent fruit. In two years since taking over as the Green Bay Packers’ general manager, Gutekunst has generally earned significant praise for his drafting.

It appears that his first draft pick, Jaire Alexander, is a huge success. Alexander has the highest coverage grade of any NFL cornerback through four games this season and is living up to his All-Pro prediction before this season. Second-day picks Josh Jackson and Oren Burks have not broken out yet, but both have plenty of time to live up to their lofty draft status. And although fourth-round receiver J’Mon Moore flamed out before the end of his second training camp, fifth-round picks Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JK Scott have had strong starts to their sophomore seasons.

But that’s just the 2018 class, and if early results are any indication, the Packers’ 2019 class will be just as good, if not better.

Two players in particular have stood out from this year’s crop of draft picks, as first-round pick Darnell Savage and second-rounder Elgton Jenkins are earning praise from various NFL media circles at the first quarter mark of their rookie seasons. Both players appeared on lists of the league’s top rookies from two different publications this week.

First is an ESPN article breaking down the ten top rookies across the entire NFL according to a group of six league insiders. Savage, the 21st overall selection in April, ranks fifth on that list thanks to his smart and impactful play on the back end of the Packers’ defense. His intelligence is equal to his impressive athleticism, however, as Rob Demovsky notes a telling quote from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine:

When Pettine gave players a handful of playcalls in rookie minicamp, he remembers Savage being “bored after about two minutes of the meeting.” “So we had to have a coach meet with him separate to start to move ahead on our install,” Pettine said. “He was well ahead of most of the other guys, most of the returning guys in the room.”

It’s no shock, then, that Savage also earned the nod as the best rookie safety through four weeks from Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Brugler notes that Savage was the first (and so far, only) rookie defensive back with an interception this year, a great pick he plucked off the turf against the Denver Broncos in week three.

The Packers’ next pick after Savage game at 44 overall, where the team chose Mississippi State offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins. The versatile Jenkins played primarily center in college, but had experience at guard and tackle as well. Now, after starting two games and playing significantly in a third, Jenkins is closing in on a top-ten vote from ESPN, being tabbed as their “under-the-radar rookie to watch.”

According to writer Seth Walder, Jenkins actually holds the top mark among all guards in the NFL in terms of pass-block win rate, which measures the rate at which a blocker sustains his pass-blocking for at least 2.5 seconds. Likewise, Brugler pegs Jenkins as his top rookie interior lineman:

Firing out of his stance, Jenkins has created movement and opened holes in the run game. And in pass protection, he has done a great job staying balanced in his mirror and resetting his hands to counter interior rushers.

It’s great to see a pair of Packers earning high praise so early in their first NFL campaigns, and these lists still have yet to mention edge rusher and 12th overall pick Rashan Gary. The Packers’ first selection in 2019 has increased his playing time steadily throughout the early part of the season and had a great game in week three with his first sack and fumble recovery.

If Gary and the rest of the team’s 2019 class can continue to improve consistently, Gutekunst should have a much deeper roster on his hands than the Packers did in the last handful of years during the Ted Thompson era.