With the Senior Bowl in the rear view mirror, the build up for the 2020 NFL Draft is underway despite one more week left in the football season. And as the draft talk begins to heat up, there is time to reflect on the Green Bay Packers’ 2019 draft class, one that saw mixed results.
The Packers clearly saw impact at the top of the class, getting two players named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team in first rounder Darnell Savage and second-round selection Elgton Jenkins. Savage quickly entrenched himself as a starter at safety and created a reliable back-end combination with fellow newcomer Adrian Amos over his 14 starts. When Savage did miss time, his impact in the secondary was felt, particularly in the regular season matchup in San Francisco. But when active, the former Maryland Terrapin showed promising signs for the future with four takeaways: two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Savage’s speed and instincts were his calling cards prior to the draft and his play as a rookie reinforced those traits.
Jenkins moved to guard after primarily playing center as a collegian and did not skip a beat. Like Savage, Jenkins started 14 games without allowing a sack. Green Bay’s guard play was a question mark heading into the season with Billy Turner taking over at right guard and Lane Taylor coming off of an injury-plagued year on the left side in 2018. Jenkins’ play when Taylor was lost for the season in week two helped alleviate some of those fears and the Mississippi State product looks to have cemented a role on the offensive line for the foreseeable future.
While Savage and Jenkins garnered honors in their first seasons, the Packers will be eagerly waiting on Rashan Gary to take that leap in year two. Gary’s athleticism as a pass rusher has never been questioned, but two sacks and three tackles for a loss over 16 games was a far cry from the results fans were hoping for when he was drafted 12th overall. It is far too soon to write off Gary, but the Michigan Wolverine also did not produce high statistical results in college after being a blue-chip recruit. The freakish potential remains for Gary, however, after being covered up as a rotational player behind the two star-studded signings of Preston and Za’Darius Smith.
Outside the Packers’ top three picks, the long-term impact of the 2019 draft class remains relatively unknown.
Third-round pick Jace Sternberger spent the majority of the season on injured reserve before being activated and making his debut in week nine. The tight end was targeted just once during the regular season, but had three catches and his first touchdown during the postseason while showing versatility as an in-line and backfield blocker. Sternberger’s role in the offense should be elevated next season with improved health and Jimmy Graham’s anticipated departure. He was a breakout pass-catcher as a junior at Texas A&M and the Packers will be on the lookout for weapons in that regard next season.
Green Bay’s third-day picks were similarly quiet. Kingsley Keke appeared in 14 games along the defensive line, but never logged more than 15 defensive snaps in a single game. Keke’s action was surprisingly minimal after enjoying a strong training camp and plenty of thought that he was a draft-day steal. Sixth-round defensive back Ka’Dar Hollman played in just 4 games as a reserve, while Dexter Williams also saw the field in just four games at running back. Hollman’s role was largely diminished due to the depth above him at cornerback, but Williams’ lack of playing time was more concerning as the Notre Dame rusher lost time to mid-season pickup Tyler Ervin despite more time to acclimate to the Packers’ system. Both will be competing for roster spots and expanded roles in 2020. Meanwhile, seventh-round middle linebacker Ty Summers did play in all 16 games as a rookie, but all of his snaps came on special teams. The possible free agent departures of Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson, along with the lack of development of Oren Burks over the past two seasons, suggest Summers will have defensive opportunities.
In many ways, the Packers’ 2019 draft mirrored the 2018 version with a mix of instant contributors and high-measurable, projectable players. The early successes in the first two rounds of 2019 in particular bring excitement for further progression and stability along each of the lines and in the secondary. If later picks, notably Sternberger and Keke, can boost their production next season, along with Gary, last year’s draft will be looked back as one of the team’s best in the past decade. But for now, there remains a significant level of wait-and-see from the 2019 class.