Its been a few weeks since the Packers 2019 draft, though it feels like much longer. With OTAs in full swing and everyone looking at this year’s Packer rookie class, I started breaking down tape of each prospect and figuring out which picks could make an impact this year for the Packers.
After last years draft, it felt like we knew who might make an immediate impact on the field. The cornerback position was in shambles and we knew that a player like Alexander would come on to the field and get playing time right away. Depth was also thin at the inside linebacker position last season, thus Oren Burks got a decent amount of playing time his first year.
This year is a little different. There are still a few question marks at the defensive back position as well as the front 7. With some key free agents, and of course draft picks, things are starting to come together as to who we might see on the field this year for the Packers. Some positions are much younger than others, but we could see a lot of rotation at some positions.
Knowing how and when to rotate players on the field can be a key component for coaches, especially on defense. A strategic rotation strategy can keep players fresh and allow them to be in the game on key downs. Defensively, this is even more important. Offensive players don’t take the kind of blows that a defensive player would. Take for instance the linebacker position. Most linebackers are hammered by offensive lineman play after play. Thus, it is important to trust the guys in your rotation and have key players ready to go at a moments notice. With the way the depth chart is looking, I think coaches will have the opportunity to do that and build quality depth.
Darnell Savage is a player who could see a considerable amount of playing time this coming season. He had a good college career at Maryland and I like what I saw on film. Savage is your prototypical strong safety. He has a strong presence in the flats and has great closing speed on the ball carrier. With as many bubble screens and quick throws as we are seeing, he is a player who I trust to roll down in the flats and take on a receiver one-on-one. The ability to tackle in open space is a huge plus for defensive backs. That’s something that it feels has been missing with the DBs in Green Bay.
When it comes to playing the pass, Savage could be used in a number of ways. Mike Pettine has a great opportunity to get creative with what he does in coverage. Because of lack of depth last season, I saw primarily single-high coverages on film. There was an occasional cover 4 or cover 2 called, but Pettine simply didn’t have the depth to do what he wanted to do when it came to coverages. Savage adds the type of skillset to run either single high looks or a 2 deep shell. He might have some struggles adjusting to the speed of the NFL and reads, but he is the type of player who could have a big breakout year.
The edge position has been a cause for concern the past couple of years in Green Bay. We saw an injury-plagued Nick Perry year after year and an aging Clay Matthews. This offseason the Packers staff has revamped the edge position, especially with two key additions with Preston and Za’Darius Smith. Because of those signings, we probably won’t see as much out of Gary as we have with past 1st round picks, but that could work out in Gary’s favor.
I think there has always had to be a fair balance with first year players. With some, you can throw them into the mix and they do just fine. Others, it seems, can’t be thrown into the fire so quickly that it completely throws off their game. I think Gary is in a sweet spot coming into Green Bay as he will have an opportunity to learn from both Preston and Za’Darius Smith.
A lot of fans seemed unhappy with the Gary pick at 12. I didn’t quite feel the same way. As I stated on The Pack Strike Back podcast, I think Gary could be a surprisingly good player. He does a good job stringing out running plays and is a strong player who can anchor the edge. That is the thing Mike Pettine is looking for in his edge players in the 3-4…guys who he can trust to set force on the edge and not let running plays get outside of them.
I wasn’t crazy about Gary’s pass rush film. I felt like he was limited in his pass rush moves and relied entirely too much on the bull rush. He might have been able to get away with that at Michigan, but I don’t know how that will fare at the next level. He might have been one of the stronger players in college but now he is going against guys who are as equally big, strong, and fast. Gary could get thrown into the mix in some packages, but I don’t see him as a starter. Za’Darius Smith has a mean rush from the interior, so that could leave a spot for Gary on third down packages.
Jace Sternberger was one of my favorite picks in the draft. He was a player I watched all offseason long. What excited me the most about Sternberger was how flexible of a player he is. At Texas A&M, he was featured all over the offense. He played the detached slot position, H back, and in line. Matt LaFleur can get creative when deciding how to play Sternberger and cause problems for defenses.
With OTA’s about to wrap up and training camp around the corner, it will be vital to keep an eye on these three rookies. While I think the class as a whole can make a good impact on the team, I will be keeping an eye on these three players.
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