With free agency a distant memory, the NFL Draft fading in the rear view mirror, and undrafted free agency all but done, the “talent acquisition” phase of the offseason is basically finished. Sure, there could be the odd signing between now and the start of the season, but the roster that the Green Bay Packers have now is largely the one they’ll take into the season.
So who’s our favorite new addition to the roster? Here’s who we like. Who’s your top pick?
Mike Vieth: Rashan Gary with an honorable mention to Za’Darius Smith
I’ll admit that when Roger Goodell read off Rashan Gary’s name for the Packers selection my mouth dropped and I cocked my head to the side with the thought “Really?” going through my head. I mean they just signed two EDGE rushers in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to contracts that average nearly $30 million per year and guarantee $36 million.
This was the year the Packers finally didn’t need an EDGE player and they go out and draft one? With that thinking, I didn’t do too much research on Gary before the draft and, of course, that’s the direction the Packers went. However, when I looked more into Gary and watched some film on him, I came away extremely impressed.
Gary is an excellent and athletic football player who will take it to a new level in the NFL. You look at his stats and they aren’t all that exciting. In three years at Michigan he tallied 119 tackles, only 9.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Nothing too great but there is a hidden factor behind those. That factor is that Gary was doubled teamed on a majority of the plays. Opposing teams also chose to rarely run to his side of the field. It’s hard to get stats when that is happening and was extremely encouraging while watching.
Why is it so encouraging? Coming to Green Bay will give Gary something he has never seen before: he won’t be the focus of the offensive game plan. He has a defensive front full of disruptive players and he won’t be double teamed at all. Other teams will be more concerned with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, and the two Smiths coming off the edge. This will give Mike Pettine the opportunity to create a match-up hell for other offenses.
While Gary will start off at the EDGE position, I’m sure that the Packers will also utilize him on the defensive line from time to time. That could give you Gary, Daniels and Clark (mix in Dean Lowry as well) for the line with the Smiths on the outside. That is some serious firepower at the line of scrimmage.
Freeing Gary up should give the Packers another disruptive weapon on the defensive front and they should reap the benefits of having him throughout the season. This is a bold prediction but I wouldn’t be surprised if he tops his entire college sack total in his rookie year.
Honorable mention to Za’Darius Smith. This comes from his tweets throughout the draft. After each selection he was tweeting at the new Packers and welcoming them to the team. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see a man who hasn’t played a down yet in Green Bay embracing the team, the culture, and being a great teammate from day one.
Evan “Tex” Western: Darnell Savage, Jr.
For the sake of this question, I’m setting aside the trade up that was required to obtain Savage -- I’m still on board with it, as I think the Packers got pretty good value in the trade, but I’m going to just look at the player and his fit on the team. From that perspective, Savage is the player I am most excited about in this year’s rookie class by far.
The years of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian were brutal. Ever since Nick Collins’ neck injury, the Packers have needed -- and have failed to find -- a fast, playmaking ballhawk to patrol the deep middle of the field. In Savage, they have that, and the pairing of the blazing-fast rookie and his aggressiveness with free agent Adrian Amos and his reliable, steady play could not be better.
The fact that Savage’s measureables are eerily similar to Collins’ doesn’t hurt either. Both stood 5-foot-11, both ran a 4.36-second 40 at the Combine, and both leapt within a half-inch of each other in the vertical (39.5” for Savage, 40” for Collins). It has been too long since the Packers had that sort of player on the back end of their defense, and it could well prove to be the piece that elevates this unit back into the upper echelon of NFL defenses.
Jon Meerdink: Kabion Ento
I am stretching the definition of “favorite” here, because I will fully admit that even for an undrafted free agent, Ento is a fringe roster prospect at the absolute best. Heck, he might be a fringe practice squad prospect. But it’s hard not to be interested in him, if only because he checks a few notable boxes from a “developing story” perspective.
First, Ento is a bonkers athlete. “Springy” hardly begins to capture his leaping ability. Had it happened at the Combine, Ento’s 41.5-inch vertical leap and 133-inch broad jump would have put him on a list with just 33 other players who have posted verticals of 41 or more inches and broad jumps of 11 feet or more since 2000.
Second, Ento’s story alone makes him interesting. A former junior college prospect, Ento’s time as a wide receiver didn’t yield much production at Colorado. Now, he’s attempting to switch to corner, a change several other Packers players have tried to varying degrees of success. His development could be fun to watch.
Finally, how do you not love the name Kabion Ento? He sounds like a Star Wars Expanded Universe (RIP) character who’s been reintroduced as a bit player in an animated series. Keep an eye out for any suspect uses of the Force throughout training camp this year.
Matub: Rashan Gary (also)
I seemed to be alone in this evaluation from the jump, but I am starting to notice people coming around to my way of thinking (see: Mike above). Anyone who has followed me for an appreciable amount of time knows that I’m a big fan of Brett Kollman. He reached #NFLTwitter fame in 2017 when he made an excellent video about “How the Packers always get away with holding” (it turns out, they don’t).
Brett did a mock draft that put Rashan Gary with the Packers at pick #12, and he received a LOT of flack for it. His reasoning was sound and found the same conclusion that I had drawn myself. Rashan Gary is not an elite EDGE prospect. He’s not an elite IDL prospect. He’s not a crazy-athletic big man. He’s not an off-ball, come screaming through the B-gap, blitzing monster. He’s ALL of those things.
According to Chris Simms, Rashan Gary lead all college football defenders in the stat of “f***ing up the play”. Gary’s highlights are not to be found within his statistical wins. Don’t watch his film on the plays that he, himself, wins. Watch his film when others on the defense are succeeding. When Chase Winovich beats a tackle off the edge, who’s eating a triple team? When Devin Bush can come in screaming through a gap, whose stunt is he coming in behind?
That’s where Gary lives and breathes. He can be for Mike Pettine’s defense what Jadeveon Clowney was for Houston last year. He’s an absolute wrecking ball who MUST be accounted for and can play quite literally anywhere in the front 7. Judge Gary not by the stats on his sheet, but by the stats he helps produce.
Paul Noonan: Elgton Jenkins
While I’m tempted to go with Aaron Jones clone Dexter Williams, Jenkins strikes me as a great value pick at a position of need. I would have liked to see more skill position guys taken, but the interior line was an issue last season, and most sacks of Rodgers that were not his own fault, came from spots that Jenkins can immediately improve.
He’s versatile, with the ability to play center as well as guard, and his athleticism, like almost every pick in this draft, is off-the-charts good. This was a very defensive-heavy draft, but in their token nod to the offense, they at least did a nice job identifying a player likely to be a real difference maker quickly.
Peter Bukowski: Darnell Savage Jr.
It’s hard not to be excited about a safety with 4.3 speed who hits, makes plays, and plays with attitude. This team desperately needed speed and aggressiveness at safety after half a decade watching Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The prior signing of Adrian Amos makes Savage’s acquisition even more potentially impactful. In the same way the Bears could maximize the playmaking of Eddie Jackson (a player to whom Savage has been compared) was because Vic Fangio had Amos patrolling his secondary, able to play the underneath zones, the robber coverages, and be a reliable tackler in space.
The combination of these two could put together a similarly dynamic group if Savage reaches his potential with that blinding speed and attacking demeanor. While Amos isn’t the sexier of the two safeties, he makes it work in a way it wouldn’t otherwise had the Packers decided to roll with Josh Jones or find a low-cost addition like Tre Boston.
Savage can be maximized because of Amos, and he allows Amos to only have to play where he’s best. They work in tandem to elevate one another. We might have to go back to the Eugene Robinson/LeRoy Butler pairing to find a safety tandem so well suited to play next to one another in Green Bay.
Kris Burke: Jace Sternberger
The hope was that either Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson would fall to Green Bay at either pick, but circumstances didn’t work out that way with the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions selecting each of the two Iowa tight ends.
The Packers instead went for Sternberger in round three, a player whom I’d hardly call a consolation prize in such a strong tight end class. Green Bay now has a tight end who can run precise routes and can truly stretch the field. That was something they were hoping Jimmy Graham could still do when they signed him last spring but that didn’t exactly work out.
Head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense does require tight ends to stay in-line and be efficient at blocking, something Sternberger has struggled with. However, if you watch tape of Sternberger he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when blocking downfield. It’s a skill that can be developed and the rookie clearly has the chance to develop it.
As for his pass catching ability, he has solid hands (something a former Packers tight end from another college in Texas struggled with) and can create mismatches down the field with his size. Aaron Rodgers finally has a tight end that is a downfield threat and a coach who should know how to utilize him. That should take some pressure off the quarterback, which is something LaFleur has consistently preached all offseason.