Packers: Grades for Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage’s careers so far
Per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky and Jeremy Fowler, the Green Bay Packers have elected to pick up the fifth-year option of both of their 2019 first-round draft picks.
Rashan Gary, a star outside linebacker for Green Bay, will be paid an estimated $11.5 million, while Darnell Savage, a playmaking safety, will be paid $7.9 million, per projections from Over The Cap.
It’s no surprise that the Packers decided to lock up two key cogs of their defense for another season. Both players are still only 24 years old, yet to enter the primes of their careers.
The pair represents two of the most important players on a Packers defense that is expected to be among the league’s best, especially after drafting two talented defensive standouts in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Both players have experienced highs and lows during their time in Green Bay.
In this article, I’ll analyze what Gary and Savage have done for the Packers so far, and what they can improve upon in the future.
Let’s start with the 12th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft: Rashan Gary.
OLB Rashan Gary
Gary entered the NFL as a talented yet raw pass rusher. He wasn’t very productive at Michigan, tallying only 9.5 sacks over three years. However, nobody could question his intangibles and massive potential.
His Relative Athletic Score of 9.95 was almost perfect, and he possessed a size-speed combination that is rare to find in edge rush prospects.
Still, at the time, the pick was a confusing one for the Packers. Many expected them to take a “win now” approach at the draft as they looked to bounce back from a disappointing 6-9-1 2018 season, in which they fired longtime head coach Mike McCarthy.
Additionally, the Packers had just signed edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to large contracts. There didn’t appear to be a spot in the lineup for Gary.
During his rookie season, it looked as if the critics were right about Gary. He played in only 24% of the team’s defensive snaps and managed only two sacks, per Pro Football Reference.
The team asked for patience with the young edge rusher, but impatient fans hoped to see more immediate production from a top-15 pick.
Gary’s role with the team increased during his second season as the Packers began to play more lineups with three outside linebackers, with Za’Darius Smith lining up in the center of the defense more often.
While Gary wasn’t a star during his second season, fans began to see flashes of the talent that the Packers front office was so infatuated with during the 2019 draft. He played 48% of the team’s snaps, totaling five sacks.
It wasn’t until his third season that Gary became a star for Green Bay.
A Za’Darius Smith injury opened the door for Gary to become the team’s top edge rusher, and he took the opportunity and ran with it. While his 9.5 sacks don’t jump off the page, his 47 quarterback pressures ranked fifth in the NFL.
Additionally, he was excellent at setting the edge at the line of scrimmage, helping to contain the run game. Gary’s immense potential finally began to become realized, and he became one of, if not the best player on the Green Bay defense.
He’ll be a key cog for the Packers’ defense in 2022 and beyond. If he can learn to convert more of his pressures into sacks, he’ll be the type of playmaker that will be a dark horse Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2022.
The only thing that keeps his grade from being an A is his lack of production during his first two seasons.
FS Darnell Savage
Savage, the 21st overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, has had an up-and-down career in Green Bay.
He’s one of the fastest safeties in the NFL, having run a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That speed gives him the potential to be one of the best playmakers at safety in the NFL, as he can simply reach balls that other ball-hawking safeties might not be able to get to.
However, the young safety has been inconsistent so far in his career. He often struggles with missed tackles, ranking 58th out of 64 safeties with a missed-tackle rate of 16.9 percent in 2021, per Sports Illustrated. Additionally, he has a penchant for allowing big plays, allowing six touchdown passes in 2021.
At his best, Savage is one of the NFL’s elite safeties.
When Savage plays instinctually and trusts what he sees, his speed can change games, allowing him to cover more field than almost any other safety in the NFL, as is evidenced by his four interceptions in 2020.
However, his inconsistencies in tackling and tendency to allow big plays has tainted his Packers’ career so far. If Savage plays to his potential in 2022, it’s possible that the Packers will have the best safety duo in the league.