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Darnell Savage Can Make a Huge Impact for Packers in 2019

For a long time, the Green Bay Packers have been searching for a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. 

In Darnell Savage, it appears the Packers have finally found one.

While it's incredibly early, there are indications he could be the most impactful Packers rookie in a decade. Clay Matthews was a huge difference maker when he came into the league in 2009 and Savage could be equally important.

Like Matthews, I expect Savage to be among the finalists for Defensive Rookie of the Year. With his speed, his physicality and his nose for the football, I expect him to be a game-changer. 

Over the past three seasons at Maryland, Savange intercepted eight passes. He also scored two defensive touchdowns, recovered a couple of fumbles and had 13 pass breakups. 

Some guys just find a way to be around the football. Clay Matthews was that way. That's why he was more than just a pass rusher.

Sure, Matthews was great at getting home off the edge. But he did so much more for the Packers defense. He was a great run defender and every so often, he would knock down a pass, get an interception or force a fumble.

The play in the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh was the perfect example. 

Matthews just always seemed to be around the ball. As I said, some guys just have a knack for it and I think Savage does. Not for nothing but Davante Adams happens to agree.

Adams isn't a scout but I don't recall him saying anything like that before. It definitely can be taken with a grain of salt and others will rightly say it's very early, but the best usually look good right away. 

Some guys develop over time. There is no doubt about that. Yet, there are other times when guys come in and they impress right after the draft, in minicamp, training camp, the preseason and when the bullets start flying.

Savage looks like one of those guys and it's a good thing because the Packers are starved for one.

This defense has some solid parts. Kenny Clark is borderline elite inside and Jaire Alexander has big-time potential at corner, however, outside of that, it's hard to find a sure-fire star.

Of course, we all have hope for Preston Smith, Zadarius Smith, Adrian Amos and even guys like Blake Martinez, Kyler Fackrell, Kevin King and Josh Jackson.

Those guys can all be good players. But can any of them be great?

It's hard to say. I can't sit here with certainty and say that Savage will be either. But after so many misses in the first round, it feels like they hit on Savage, just as they did with Alexander.

Alexander wasn't able to stay healthy. Hopefully, Savage, who is just 5-foot-11, won't suffer the same fate. 

There are questions about Savage's size and maybe his ability to cover big, tall tight ends. That's legitimate. Yet, he has shown man-to-man ability in the slot and an aggressiveness in the run game that will be a welcome sight.

On top of that, Savage is an incredible athlete, which is an underrated attritbute when you think about tackling. If you are going to get great athletes to the ground, you better have a few and Green Bay needed more.

In addition to his athleticism, Savage brings a physical mentality. He also brings a big-play mentality, one the Packers have been sorely lacking and need to get back. 

Savage will help in that way and he will also be one of the more impactful first-rounders Green Bay has had since Matthews. 




Chris is a sports journalist from Montana and has been blogging about the Packers since 2011. Chris has been a staff writer for CheeseheadTV since 2017 and looks forward to the day when Aaron Rodgers wins his second Super Bowl. Follow him @thepackersguru

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (48) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Nick Perry's picture

Alexander wasn't able to stay healthy. Hopefully, Savage, who is just 5-foot-11, won't suffer the same fate.

I just looked up Savage's stats at Maryland and the first thing I looked at was games played. He played 4 seasons, started for 3 of them and didn't miss a game as far as I could tell. IMO that's a hell of a start.

Now if he's as good as Adams thinks he is, as good as his draft stock suggests he was, the Packers will FINALLY have a FS to adequately replace Nick Collins. Not only that but they'll have a Safety Tandem who will be the best tandem I can remember in years.

I'm telling you, folks, this defense is going to be NASTY. That front 7 with Clark, Martinez, the Smiths, Daniels, and hopefully Gary, plus guys like Lowry, Adams, Frackrell, and others for depth, Pettine has a mix of the perfect bunch of players to be versatile and play any kind of defense to give offenses fits.

Bearmeat's picture

Alexander wasn't "hurt" all season though... he got hurt, but was back and playing well by the end of the year. It just feels different than King or Perry, who never seemed to get "back" after getting "dinged."

I am legit excited about Savage. It's been since Nick Collins that we had an elite athlete playing FS. I think we're going to have a top 10 defense if it stays healthy.

Guam's picture

Gute has certainly added many pieces to this defense and I am more optimistic about the Packers ability to finally stop someone than I have been in a long time. We should have an effective pass rush and guys with the speed to cover, which will be a pleasant change.

All of that said, the defense is both young and has many new players. It may take them a few games to jell.

Nick Perry's picture

"Gute has certainly added many pieces to this defense and I am more optimistic about the Packers ability to finally stop someone than I have been in a long time."

Not only am I optimistic about Gute adding pieces and the defense stopping someone, but I'm also optimistic Gute will fix ANYTHING on the team moving forward and quickly.

1) Coaching Staff...Check
2) Outside Linebackers...Check
3) One preferably two Safeties...Check and Check
4) Team Speed...Check
5) Trades...Check
6) Free Agency...CHECK

IceBowl's picture

Nick Perry,

You say ...... "but I'm also optimistic Gute will fix ANYTHING on the team moving forward and quickly."

I'm thinking that is at the heart of all our excessive optimism. Guty went out and attacked the team's holes/problems. Attacked!! Different from the past. Why would't we feel juiced?

greengold's picture

He most certainly "attacked" our problems throughout the entire team. I'm thrilled beyond belief at what he has done through his short tenure to date. Got rid of overpriced, ineffective players, coaches who were not performing to expectations, and added a great group of ascending Free Agents, all of whom are young, with the exception of Lewis and Graham.

Just great work by Gutekunst. I'm also impressed with the leadership LaFleur has displayed thus far.

The Savage pick was the icing on the cake. He's going to be a perennial Air-Pro. I have zero doubts about that. Gutekunst "attacked" the NFL Draft by trading up for him. I couldn't be happier with the changes he's made and his new additions.

Handsback's picture

Green Bay has lacked playmakers on defense. Last year they landed one in Alexander. This year they landed another in Savage and Gary.
You can argue and say that Alexander wasn't a playmaker last year, but all arrows point to him being one. The same for this years two 1st rounders. It may be another year before they make those All-Pro list, but it's hard to miss their potential. Since CMII, the Green Bay defense hasn't had a playmaker so having these young players making a difference we should see a marked improvement in Green Bay's record.

stockholder's picture

NoBody is a Steal! Calm Down. I really don't expect anything more than Dix. Seriously he was considered a 3rd round pick. Yes, he opened the packers eyes. Yes, he's brought upgrade to a hole. It's like comparing Mighty Mouse, Speedy gonzalas, and Micky mouse. The Cape, Speed, and the popularity just all don't describe Savage. He hasn't played a down yet. I get the PUMP. But even the best laid plans go a stray. The meaning of Safety better fit Savage. The price he cost the packers is not stealing. We all know what a mouse looks like in a mouse Trap. The bait is the hype. Hoping Savage is Collins or Butler, doesn't fit, either. Hoping Savage is a pleasure to watch. Could turn out to be the real treasure.

Coldworld's picture

Savage was considered a third round pick? He was a riser certainly, but that must have been an outlier by the weeks leading up to the draft.

He is a rookie, he will make mistakes. He has a lot to learn and Collins took four years to be Collins. I agree that we need to avoid placing ridiculous expectations on him. That helps no one.

IceBowl's picture


You say .... "NoBody is a Steal!" I disagree.

Starr, Favre, Rodgers. All steals. How many picks would Ditka give up for each one? All of his picks!

And you say .... "The price he cost the packers is not stealing."

Geeze, I don't get it. Most of the talk here complains about the Pack getting low draft picks over the recent years. I'm not diminishing the value of any draft pick, but 2 4th's for a 1st. Great deal on paper and just what we needed. He may never play a down, but I am glad Guty went up and got "THAT" (ranked) player. (I never saw Savage ranked lower than the 1st rnd. But with the multitude of "experts" I suppose there was one that had him 3rd rnd.)

I'm with you saying .... "Could turn out to be the real treasure." Hoping!!

Handsback's picture

Savage was rated 2nd rounder by the internet draft experts. Most pro scouts had him late 1st round until word got out, not every team is tight lipped as TT, and sites started ranking him in 1st round. Not all the teams agreed with that accesssment but most did.
I watched him do major damage on UT two years straight and wondered how he would look in green and gold.

jannes bjornson's picture

The first DB off the board should tell you where PRO Scouts placed his value. Gutekunst set the move up in advance, playing on Schneider's need to add bodies. It was a sound trade with the Pack coming out ahead in value points..

4thand1's picture

Yeah Tom Brady wasn't a steal, or Rodgers, or Dan Marino, Richard Sherman, Bart Starr............................................could go on forever.

Since '61's picture

Ever hear of Johnny Unitas?!!! Thanks, Since ‘61

Qoojo's picture

Kind of hard to top a 17th rounder named Starr when you look at post-season stats.

"Starr has the highest postseason passer rating (104.8) of any quarterback in NFL history and a postseason record of 9–1. His career completion percentage of 57.4 was an NFL best when he retired in 1972"

Arguably the biggest, I wouldn't say steal but how about, deal in draft history?

stockholder's picture

The is should have been was! I was talking about Savage! Bringing back players from the 60s. Boy that really taking this Article in a different direction. Savage wasn't a steal! But if you want to blow that out of context, Try earlier with your examples. The move up cost two 4ths. Still most had Savage early 3rd, and possible going in the second. (Before the draft.) His combine was the jump. But most still had him as the #5 safety on their big boards. And most of the people on Cheese TV had it that way. Some should have their words played back, as to not liking the safety group as a whole. So No SAVAGE WAS NOT A STEAL. Cutting the Cheese thick in Green Bay this time of year, doesn't change the taste.

Lphill's picture

The Packers D line is going to set the tone for the defense which will make it easier for everyone else. The injuries last season to the d line took its toll on everyone , with a more dominant D line this season we will see more turnovers from our secondary if Savage emerges as a playmaker that’s icing on the cake.

jannes bjornson's picture

Hence the need to carry 6-7 on the D line. Miintain depth with the big bodies; they can always get a sp teams guy off the PSquad if there is an injury. No need for 7 WRs in this offense.

Coach JV's picture

One of the things I love about Savage is that he comes in with 4 full years of College experience. That is a huge factor as far as football IQ is concerned. And just experience playing...

So many guys hit the draft after two seasons... sometimes even one season of actual playing time in college and it hinders their development.

4 years of playing time sets Savage up great for starting and contributing... and dare I say "difference-making" right away.


Tundraboy's picture

Excellent point. After 4 years , experience and maturity leave you better prepared to meet the challenges of the next level. Can't hurt.

Lare's picture

I certainly hope Savage is the real deal. The Packers gave up an awful lot to get him and it looks like Gutekunst and the scouting staff know what they're doing.

I'm looking forward to watching the Packers this season. It doesn't look like we'll be seeing the same old, same old for the first time in quite a while.

sonomaca's picture

I know we haven’t got much to talk about, but the expectations for this guy are getting a bit high. If he’s one of the best rookie safeties, that’s good enough.

Experienced safeties know QB and receiver tendencies. They know how to fool people. They know the strengths and weaknesses of teammates in the defensive backfield. Savage isn’t going to know any of these things, at least not early on.

mrtundra's picture

I just hope Savage hunts Bears and Lions and turns into a football monster when he sees purple. There is nothing more gratifying to me than to see those other NFC North teams get crushed by the Packers. Savage should fit in nicely in the Packers' defensive arsenal on this season's gridiron safari.

ILPackerBacker's picture

Adams plays WR for many reasons. Yet this is the same guy who wanted to keep MM as head coach, then wanted Joe P as head coach and now loves the new HC.

Let the guy be positive and like his team but stop making him into a trendy Ms J Dixon.

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

You have a good point! Rodgers now he loves Kumerow as we all know, but Adam he doesnt discriminate and he spreads the love around and love's everyone! :)

Since '61's picture

I’m looking forward to seeing Savage play. It’s way too early to know how good he will or won’t be.

The key to remember is that he is a piece of Pettine’s defense which has added 5 new players including Savage. Savage, the Smiths, Amos and Gary could become the core of this defense for the next 3-4 seasons. Add in Alexander, Clark, Daniels and King and the Packers should have a defense that is faster and more physical than we have seen since the 2010 SB season and maybe since the ‘95 - ‘98 seasons.

If nothing else would should finally have a pass rush and better tackling. I’m hoping to watch good defense again since without it we only have half of a team as we have been painfully aware since 2011.
Thanks, Since ‘61

ThxJackVainisi's picture

I agree Savage is just one added piece and I would add Burks as a potential significant contributor to the defense. Unlike the draftees, this is his second year in the D and I've read reports that he's done well so far this off season. I'm encouraged by that because I believe his problem last season was more understanding the scheme than any physical limitations. If true, his speed at ILB would add an important component to the defense.
I think there are legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the defense this season. The acquisition of the Smiths and Amos add NFL-talented vets going into what should be the peak of their careers. I think Pettine did well last season considering the lack of talent he had to work with. This year he'll have no excuses and I don't think he'll need one: He'll be able to keep his pass rushers fresh and I believe he'll be able to be even more creative pressuring the QB because he'll have legitimate safeties to protect against the deep ball.

Pierre's picture

Agreed on Pettine getting the defense playing solid considering the lack of depth and skilled players he had available. With the new players from FA and the draft he should have this Packers’ D as one of the better ones in the NFL this season. I think there’s definitely good reasons to be optimistic about the Green Bay defense being a force this coming season.

Tundraboy's picture

I would be very happy if we become known for our Tackling. We can go from there.

Qoojo's picture

I think there's way too much hype and expectations being thrown out there for the rookies that haven't even played a practice rep in pads, let alone a real game. No matter what, rookies are rookies, even the best of them are prone to costly rookie mistakes.

The hype train just seems a bit much this year. Maybe it's the new coaching staff adding to it.

Tundraboy's picture

Lot of pent up frustration. Is it any wonder why we are exhilarated after seeing something finally done about it. We have real hope again.

wildbill's picture

All this safety talk has me remembering watching Willie Wood play. What a fantastic player! I feel for the Packer fans who never got to see him play. 8x pro bowl, 5x first team all-pro, 4x second team all-pro. Great safety play is so important and fun to see it make a difference in the games. Just wanted to give him a shout out and thanks. GPG!

Since '61's picture

Because I played DB in High School I wore Willie Woods number 24 during my HS playing days. Full disclosure # 26 was already taken or I would have worn Adderly’s number.

In any case Willie Wood remains to be the best free safety the Packers ever had. Several others have been good even great players but none as good as Willie. He was a walk on try out. Basically the equivalent of today’s UDFAs and went all the way to the HOF.

A sure tackler, great in coverage and a reliable punt returner. I agree wildbill we were lucky to have watched him play. Thanks, Since ‘61

Johnblood27's picture

Willie Wood may be the most successful QB to come out of USC.

I bleed green more's picture

That D was amazing they attacked the O we were spoiled back then.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

"I feel for the Packer fans who never got to see him play."

Anyone can watch Super Bowl 1 and the Ice Bowl one youtube. And sorry, but I don't consider anyone who hasn't a real Packer fan.

If you did you'll also remember Tom Brown. He was very good Safety too. He was a 2 sport athlete who played for the Washington Senators too.

Cubbygold's picture

This kid must have had one hell of a practice in shorts and a tshirt. Three months ago he wasn't even projecting to be a first round pick, now he's neck and neck with Mack for DPOY.

IceBowl's picture

No one has practiced in pads yet. And of course the "hype" train is running at full speed.

I don't understand why people come to a fan site and do not get the hype aspect.

That's what the site is, IMO, Pack hype and info.

Lare's picture

That's why all the Bears sites are hyping HHCD. Personally, I'll take Savage over HHCD anyday and I haven't even seen Savage play yet.

IceBowl's picture


I have to say I have not tried to watch Amos. But HaHa just didn't cut it in my eyes. He let players run through him, around him. Sad.

In Guty I trust.

cheesycowboy's picture

That was his number at Maryland.

cheesycowboy's picture

I watched him play against the Longhorns season opener last year and they had NO answer on how to contain #4. This guy can play football.

IceBowl's picture

Who is #4?

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Savage wore 4 at Maryland.

IceBowl's picture

OK, Got it. Thanks

IceBowl's picture

My children offered up "A Happy Fathers Day" to the Pack pack.

PatrickGB's picture

After reading many of the comments here, I asked myself what two players in the fourth round would work out better for the pack if they had stayed put at 30 in the first. I could not think of any. Perhaps he would have still been around at 30 but I doubt it. A lot of fourth rounders get cut in the first couple of years. So, If the scouts think he is worth it, then I am on board. Adams comment is a cherry on top.

greengold's picture

Darnell Savage's instincts alone in breaking down what is happening in front of him and positioning himself to make a play are faster than his 4.3 40 time. The guy is incredibly gifted, intelligent, and loves the game.

He will become a very special player for the Packers. Well worth the trade. Not even close...

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