Packers continue defensive rebuild in first round of draft
It was all about defense on the first night of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Green Bay Packers, and the rebuild looks to be almost complete on this side of the ball.
Defense wins championships. The Green Bay Packers already have an all-world quarterback, and since taking over as general manager last offseason, Brian Gutekunst has been focused on raising the level of the defense.
That continued on Thursday night in the opening round of the 2019 NFL Draft when the Packers doubled down on defense by selecting Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary and Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. Two positions of need checked off on Day 1.
Rewind one year, and Gutekunst used his top two draft selections to fix the cornerback position. Jaire Alexander is the team’s future at cornerback, and he impressed in Year 1, making the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Gutekunst aggressively addressed the team’s biggest defensive needs in this year’s free agency — at edge rusher and safety — by signing Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos. But he wasn’t done there and has now added more talent at both positions in the draft.
Gary has a lot to prove and there is some concern over his production at Michigan, but make no mistake, this could be a home-run pick by Gutekunst. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared Gary to Ezekiel Ansah, and wrote that he has “elite potential if a defensive coordinator can harness the energy and focus his approach.”
Mike Pettine might just be that defensive coordinator.
It’ll be interesting to see how Pettine uses Gary in his defense, but Gutekunst deserves credit for ensuring the Packers have plenty of talent and depth at edge rusher. And maybe he’ll add another pass-rusher later in the draft.
Gutekunst has also quietly put together one of the most exciting young secondaries in the league over the past two years. Building on last year’s work drafting Alexander and Josh Jackson, he added experience by bringing back Tramon Williams, and this offseason addressed a huge need at safety by signing Amos.
The job wasn’t done as the Packers needed another starter at safety, and Savage could be exactly what this defense needs.
Savage is an excellent athlete, won’t miss many tackles and gives the Packers defense a ballhawk at safety. Pettine’s unit needs more turnovers, and Savage can help — he made four interceptions last season.
Gutekunst described Savage as “an absolute difference maker”, which shows why he was so confident to move up nine spots and give away two fourth-rounders to pick him.
Drafting Gary comes with a risk, but if he can reach his potential, the Packers have found themselves a star. Savage is an exciting pick and he will add to an ascending secondary in Green Bay.
Defense remained the focus in the draft, and Pettine’s unit might now have the tools to finish inside the top-10 in 2019.