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Packers found ways to improve their roster immediately on first two days of 2019 Draft

Forget letter grades. How much will the first four picks contribute in 2019?

NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you’re coming here for draft grades, you’re in the wrong place. There are thousands of “instant reaction” draft grade articles all over the internet. The truth is it’s impossible to properly grade a team’s draft class for at least two seasons, let alone one that is still in progress or just days old.

Instead what we hope to accomplish here is to look at each of the Green Bay Packers’ picks from the first three rounds, where immediate starters are most commonly found, and ask the simple question “Are the Packers better with this player on the roster or not?”

Obviously general manager Brian Gutekunst and the Packers’ front office think they are otherwise they wouldn’t have selected the players. That’s not the intention here. The intention here is to see if the Packers are immediately better or if these rookies will be more projects that could be more beneficial to the team in the long haul instead of the short term.

Let’s start by looking at Green Bay’s two first-round selections.

LB Rashan Gary, Michigan (First Round, 12th overall)

The Packers had their choice of a few top pass rushers and instead went with a dark horse, if Gary could even be considered that. Upgrading the pass rush was clearly priority one for Gutekunst this offseason as he signed two pass rushers via free agency in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and then used the team’s first pick to add yet another linebacker.

On paper, Gray is a specimen of an athlete (sub-4.60 40-yard dash weighing 277 pounds) which is a theme you’ll notice in players Gutekunst seems to treasure in both the draft and free agency. However his production in college (3.5 sacks in 2018, down from 5.5 in 2017) didn’t reflect his physical traits and this last season had a lot to do with a nagging labrum injury.

Both the Packers and Gary insist no surgery will be needed, but you can’t blame fans for being wary of Green Bay potentially having yet another injury-riddles linebacker after the team just parted ways with Nick Perry and Clay Matthews.

The selection of Gary seems to be a ceiling pick, meaning the Packers are banking on defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to develop his technique and harness those freak athletic skills. This is well and fine for a prospect, but not usually one taken in the top 15 overall.

Does he make the Packers better in 2019? Neutral. He may not contribute much immediately, but Gary could be a potential late-season riser.

S Darnell Savage, Maryland (First round, 21st overall)

Like the pass rush, the safety position was another area of need Gutekunst had to address and he started to do that in free agency by signing Adrian Amos away from the rival Chicago Bears.

However safety play was so bad for the Packers last season that they traded up from 30th to 21st overall to draft another one. Green Bay got their hard hitting safety in Amos, and in Savage they hope they get a player similar to Amos’ former teammate and fellow safety Eddie Jackson.

Ironically, the team used the pick they received from Washington in exchange for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline last season to move up to pick Savage. Keeping with the Jackson comparison, Savage is slightly shorter at 5’11” versus Jackson’s 6’0” and weighs in at 198 pounds versus 202 for the Bears’ safety.

Savage would be playing the center fielder role in Green Bay’s defense and given the struggles of Josh Jones and the overall lack of depth at the position, the rookie will have the opportunity to start right away. He has the speed (4.36 40-yard dash time) to close in coverage and also can be a ball hawk when needed (four interceptions and two pass breakups).

Does he make the Packers better in 2019? Yes. This is almost a given considering the condition of the safety depth chart aside from Amos, but Savage provides enough athletic skill and football intelligence that he immediately improves the position before he even takes a snap.

G Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State (Second round, 44th overall)

With defense addressed on the first day of the draft, the Packers’ attention turned to the offensive side of the ball on Friday. Green Bay of course has a ton of money invested in quarterback Aaron Rodgers and keeping him upright (and therefore healthy) is a top priority. That meant finding an additional guard despite the signing of Billy Turner in free agency or selecting a tackle as the heir apparent to Bryan Bulaga.

Gutekunst chose the former and chose Jenkins, who was versatile at Mississippi State. He spent his time at center during his final two seasons but played all five positions at one point or another during his college career.

The Packers obviously don’t need a center with the reliable Corey Linsley still on board, but with head coach Matt LaFleur installing a more true zone blocking scheme on offense the Packers will need swing players like Jenkins. He’s not the most exciting selection, but he’s good enough at everything that he could push Turner immediately for a starting job at guard.

Does he make the Packers better in 2019? Yes. While fans will be wary of any second round offensive lineman thanks to the disappointment of Jason Spriggs, this selection not only gives Green Bay immediate depth but also could give them a guard of the future should Turner not work out or if he ends up being the long-term right tackle instead.

TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M (third round, 75th overall)

With their final selection on the draft’s second day, the Packers gave Rodgers a receiving tight end who could be the long term replacement for Jimmy Graham.

Sternberger isn’t a blocking tight end, at least for now. That is something he will likely have to learn in LaFleur’s offense, but he is an efficient route runner and can reliably catch the ball, which would be an improvement over the third-round pick of the Packers’ who was a field-stretching tight end.

While he isn’t the size of Rob Gronkowski (he’s a couple inches shorter and just under 20 pounds lighter), there are similarities in their playing style and getting Rodgers his own version of Gronk late in his career would be beneficial to an offense looking to forge a new identity under LaFleur.

Does he make the Packers better in 2019? Yes. Graham will start the season as the primary move tight end and Marcedes Lewis will get work as a blocker, but if Sternberger does well in camp and the preseason you could see two tight end sets during the regular season with one in line and the other out wide. Add Davante Adams and a speedster like Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the formation and you could have a very potent attack.

So, did the Packers get better in 2019 after the the first three rounds of the draft? Absolutely. The selection of Gary remains a bit of head scratcher, as that seems awfully high for a ceiling pick. However, the Packers seemed satisfied about the condition his labrum so fans will just have to trust the team, which has one of the more cautious medical staffs in the league, (no matter what a disgruntled former tight end will tell you).

Day three of the draft has been spent acquiring depth and long-term projects. Diamonds in the rough can be found here, however, and it will be up to the coaching staff to develop those hidden gems once they are on the roster.

The draft has been called the “ultimate crapshoot” and the best teams minimize the risk. That’s why draft grades in the immediate aftermath are useless. You have to see the players not only play at NFL speed but also give them a chance to grow. Judging by the first four picks of the Packers’ draft, there is immediate talent there but also room for growth.

Gutekunst got some quality ingredients early. Now it’s time for LaFleur and the coaching staff to cook a gourmet meal.