Packers 2019 Draft Class Already Impressing

Brian Gutekunst seems to have found some gems in the 2019 Draft Class with Darnell Savage, Rashan Gary, and Elgton Jenkins all impressing early. 

The Green Bay Packers have overhauled their roster over the last few seasons, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Kevin King is off to his best start of the season (despite working through an injury right now that may keep him out of Sunday’s game), and Jaire Alexander is looking like a soon-to-be All-Pro if he continues his dominant performance in coverage. 

This offseason, the team added three defensive studs to the roster through free agency by signing linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and safety Adrian Amos. Those moves alone would have made the defensive side of the ball look vastly different than in previous years, but General Manager Brian Gutekunst wasn’t done just yet.

On April 25, using his two first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, Gutekunst added outside linebacker Rashan Gary at pick No. 12 and safety Darnell Savage at pick No. 21. 

Additionally, Gutekunst found his guard of the future in the second round by drafting Elgton Jenkins out of Mississippi State, in addition to the signing of Billy Turner during free agency. Jenkins’ second-round draft status was the highest offensive pick ever made by Gutekunst, and the first second-round offensive pick since Jason Spriggs in 2016. 

Through four games of the 2019 season, the rookies have already been asked to play bigger roles than perhaps the team initially anticipated. Starting with Jenkins, who came in at left guard in place of Lane Taylor who’s currently on injured reserve with a biceps injury. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Jenkins has taken 151 offensive snaps so far this season and has only had one penalty called against him, while allowing zero sacks (and three total pressures). His overall player rating is 68.9, with a pass blocking grade of 69.8 and a run blocking grade of 69.6. That’s a strong start for a player tasked with keeping future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright. 

Now let’s switch to the defensive side of the ball. Gary’s numbers aren’t as flashy given the fact that he’s not in a starting role like the other two rookies mentioned, but he is getting some good reps through four weeks. 

Gary has played in 64 total snaps so far this season, dividing his time between 25 run defense snaps and 39 pass rush snaps with one sack.

Pro Football Focus credits Gary with two hurries, one quarterback hit, and five total pressures in addition to his lone sack (PFF credits Gary with two sacks, though Pro Football Reference and the official Packers website only credit Gary with one). His best performance of the season came Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. While he only played in six snaps, he had a pass rush rating of 73.3 and a defensive rating of 76.1, his best rating of the season by a wide margin. Even still, given the addition of both Z. Smith (three sacks, 15 hurries, 23 total pressures, 72.6 overall rating) and P. Smith (four sacks, 12 hurries, 19 total pressures, 79.3 overall rating) to the edge rush rotation, Gary isn’t being asked to do nearly as much as his first round counterpart Darnell Savage, who we’ll talk about next. 

Savage has played in 271 defensive snaps for the Packers his rookie season (that’s every single snap, by the way). Per PFF, Savage has only allowed a passer rating of 10.7 when targeted, and 5.7 yards per reception. He has 18 solo tackles, one forced fumble, and one interception. His overall grade is listed at 68.2, but he shines in coverage with a 72.6 grade. Fun fact, he’s also the current Vegas favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

For comparison's sake, veteran safety Adrian Amos currently has 20 solo tackles, one interception, and an allowed passer rating of 60.6 with 7.4 yards per reception. His overall grade from Pro Football Focus is 69.1 with a coverage grade of 70.5. 

Fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke also deserves honorable mention for contributing on the defensive side of the ball. Keke has played in just 19 snaps through two weeks (he was inactive for Weeks 1 and 2) but he’s played particularly well against the run in those 19 snaps. While only tallying five snaps against the run, PFF has graded Keke a 72.1 with an overall grade of 64.4. He’s another rookie that should see an increase in playing time as the season progresses, especially if the injury to third-year player Montravius Adams lingers and keeps him out for a few more weeks. 

Sixth-round running back Dexter Williams is expected to play in his first NFL regular season game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in place of Jamaal Williams who is still going through the concussion protocol. He’s been a healthy scratch in all four games so far this season. Fellow sixth-rounder Ka’dar Hollman might also see the field for the first time on Sunday. He was held out of the first four games with a neck injury, but he’ll have an opportunity to play with both Kevin King and Tony Brown on the injury report. 

Of the remaining rookies, inside linebacker Ty Summers has played on special teams so far each week for the Packers, but he’s yet to take any defensive snaps this season. Lastly, highly-anticipated third-round tight end Jace Sternberger is on injured reserve with an ankle injury. 

Though the sample size remains small, the 2019 Draft Class is already making an impact for the Packers. Now Hollman and D. Williams should have the chance to leave their own positive marks on the field in Dallas this Sunday.

 

Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and a podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (23)

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Lphill's picture

October 04, 2019 at 05:15 am

I think we see more Gary this week , time for him to shine.

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Nick Perry's picture

October 04, 2019 at 05:31 am

I have a friend who's loved to bust my balls the last 2 years about the Packers. During the draft when the Packers selected Savage he texted me "You guys took a safety from MARYLAND" with the emphasis on Maryland. I'll tell you one thing...Savage has given me plenty already to bust my buddies balls myself. IF Savage was to win DROY, I'll take busting to a whole new level! I love this kid!!

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greengold's picture

October 04, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Savage was THE 1 player I wanted GB to take. I was thrilled, beyond words when Gutekunst traded up to snag him. Unbelievable talent. #1 Safety in his draft class, bar none.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 04, 2019 at 07:09 pm

The rest of the Maryland crew will be presented in the 2021 draft.

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flackcatcher's picture

October 04, 2019 at 05:46 am

As a practical matter, none of Rookies have played enough snaps to make this kind of judgement so early in the season. Outside of Savage, I hold off for another 4 games before even looking at the video on these players. Pro level is completely different than even Division 1, so how this draft group grows is still a unknown factor for now.

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Sureshot's picture

October 04, 2019 at 06:26 am

Still not so sure about Gary's talent but I am OK to wait 2 years to see if he develops the way Kenny Clark did.

But for Savage and Jenkins, I am already on board.
These kids have huge talent and winning demeanor. I am really glad Gute did draft them evn though I was surprised by the trade up for Savage.

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nostradanus's picture

October 04, 2019 at 07:03 am

This is looking to be the best draft the Packers have had in many years it’s the kind of draft that can help put the team over the top and back to the playoffs hopefully.
We will see how the rest of the season plays out but there is definitely a reason for optimism.
Go Pack!

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Old School's picture

October 04, 2019 at 11:48 am

So this draft is going to be better than the 2016 draft that brought us Clark, Lowry, Martinez, Fackrell, Davis,?

Or the 2017 group of King, Montravious Adams, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones?

Savage is good. Jenkins is good. I think Gary will be good, but perhaps not as good as you’d like that high of a pick to be. But it’s only three guys.

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murf7777's picture

October 04, 2019 at 08:10 am

Gary has 1sack (not 2), 5 tackles and 1 FF. Very limited info thou. He has ability but needs to develop more moves then a stutter step and rush outside the tackle. If he achieves that over next year or two he could excel in the nfl.

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Packers2019's picture

October 04, 2019 at 08:29 am

I agree, Murf.

He better excel since he was a 12 overall pick. He needs to be a starter by next year, IMO. You cannot pick someone at 12 overall and not have them be a starter in year 2.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

October 04, 2019 at 12:08 pm

says everyone who has not watched player development or looked at the performances of top 12 picks over the years....

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Guam's picture

October 04, 2019 at 08:46 am

The Packers were pretty clear when they drafted Gary that he would take some time to develop since he was switching positions from DL to OLB. I am okay with that since we have the Smiths at OLB now.

Gute and his team seem to have a good eye for talent as his first draft was solid too. Another year or two of this and the Packers might be fully recovered from TT's final years.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 04, 2019 at 08:54 am

As good as Savage and Jenkins have been this draft could have been a monster if Gute hadn't fallen in love with Gary. Everyone dances around the fact he's a project already showing why he was considered the high draftee with the biggest bust potential. He runs fast for a big man and not much else. Watch him rush the QB, he gets to Eagle River from Milwaukee by way of St. Paul Minnesota. There are so many good rookie receivers playing well right now, and what do we need most?... someone to replace Allison. I've been ranting about this since preseason and finally, now it's being acknowledged. Gute ignored the advice of Ron Wolf who said his greatest regret was not giving Favre more weapons. Gute has given Rodgers Allison. It's why the offense is stagnant.

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Since'61's picture

October 04, 2019 at 09:38 am

John - you can only build so much of the team at one time. Gute focused on defense for 2019. I’m expecting/hoping that he will focus on the offense during the 2020 offseason.

As for Gary, we should remember that he came out a year early. A 20 year old playing against 23-25 years olds is a big difference compared with a 22 year old who comes out as Senior. Just refer to Kenny Clark as a similar example. Also Gary is learning a new position.

None of us know how he will ultimately turn out. But if he stays healthy and is properly coached he has the tools to evolve into an excellent player. Again similar to Clark. The Smiths are here to get Gary through his transitional period. For now time is on Gary’s side.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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stockholder's picture

October 04, 2019 at 11:43 am

The game is won in the trenches. I don't dislike Gary. But I do dislike the fact Gute picked him, and switched his position. Yes, it hopefully will turn out. But the correct call was to take a Dt first. Even trade down. Every pick is a gamble for the future. Burns or Sweat would have made more sense to me. As long as Gary doesn't turn out like Polite. Gute will keep his job.

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Since'61's picture

October 04, 2019 at 09:53 am

The key for Gute is going to be the Packers 2020 draft position. If this team reaches the playoffs as we all hope they will Gute will be drafting in the mid to high 20s each round. A different level of talent will be available at those slots than at 14 and 12 where Gute has started from over the last 2 seasons.

Will his picks be as effective once he is drafting later in the rounds. That will be a truer test of his drafting effectiveness. Time will tell. Thanks, Since ‘61

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ShooterMcGee's picture

October 04, 2019 at 11:03 am

We really needed this draft to be extraordinary and it just might be. We got 2 starters in Jenkins and Savage with Savage getting early acclaim. Gary was a shocker for me but if he continues to develop could be an all pro. Wish we could have seen Jace in the regular season but we will have to wait. Looking at the 3rd round we could have taken WR Mclaury or Boykin both of whom have had early success. However I can't argue with adding a TE to our lackluster group. Then rounds 5-7 we added quality backups with a lot of upside. It always takes time to judge a draft class but it already looks better than ones in years past.
Next year we need to restock the offense. It is supposedly a deep WR class, perfect for us. I wouldn't be surprised if we add a QB on the 2nd as well.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

October 04, 2019 at 12:14 pm

generally don't like the 'stupid ass' or 'dumb ass' stuff but it is appropriate as we listen for more words of wisdom and how stupid ass the pick of Rodgers was when he did literally NOTHING for his first 4 games much less getting sacks and pressures

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ThxJackVainisi's picture

October 04, 2019 at 07:01 pm

You may be right that Gary was drafted too high but you dont know that for sure now. Why pretend you know?

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ThxJackVainisi's picture

October 04, 2019 at 09:55 pm

...

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ILPackerBacker's picture

October 04, 2019 at 12:13 pm

It seems the sack gary shared with williams was credited to gary. Gary 2.

Unlike previous dipstick GMs the rookie starters earned the spots, they were not given the spots. Recall back to M Burnett being given the job despite sucking like Brice and a lucky injury bailing out the D for the better player.

Jenkins was BETTER than Lane and is also better than Billy T. D Colledge was not better than anyone outside he fellow rookie guard who was gifted a job.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

October 04, 2019 at 02:06 pm

What injury could Montravious Adam's have??
My lordy. Spends more time resting them playing.

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ThxJackVainisi's picture

October 04, 2019 at 10:48 pm

You wouldn't attack his character without proof, would you? BTW he has a shoulder injury incurred while playing a very physical position against some of the biggest and strongest athletes in the country. He played in all 16 games last season, but somehow you pretend to know he's "resting" when he could be playing.

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