Reviewing the Packers 2019 Draft Class
Months and months of pre-draft evaluations, tape grinding and medical assessments, done by scouts, team executives and fans across the world and in just three days the 2019 NFL has officially come to a close. With the Arizona Cardinals selection of UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson as Mr.Irrelevant, the 2019 draft is over. Before we hop on Twitter and malign Brian Gutekunst and the Packers for their picks, let’s take a breath, watch some tape, and review.
In the first round, the Packers broke away from what most expected them to do. Draft analysts and fans alike had the Packers taking either a top end tight end at pick 12, or a speedy pass-rusher to complement the defense. Instead the Packers went for athleticism and upside with Michigan edge Rashan Gary. Gary may have the highest ceiling of any player in this entire class. Many will point out his well-documented lack of production in Ann Arbor, however it is hard not to watch Gary’s tape and salivate over his potential in Green and Gold. The number one high school recruit in the nation in 2016, his triumvirate of height, weight, and speed is scary. As Zach Kruse of Packers Wire puts it:
In other words, the Packers could line up Gary as a receiver on Sundays, and he wouldn’t be out of place. All reports suggest that Green Bay will start Gary on the outside as a linebacker, however Mike Pettine will find ways to use his versatility and line him up all over the defensive formation. At Michigan, Gary was often game-planned against, leading to double and triple teams on Saturdays. In Green Bay, the defensive staff should be able to scheme Gary into one on one match-ups versus tackles or guards and let the big man eat. Watching Rashan hunt ball-carriers is often akin to seeing a cheetah attack a gazelle, a nightmarish thought for NFL offensive co-ordinators.
Later on Thursday night, the Packers suddenly decided to trade up for a player they highly valued. General Manager Brian Gutekunst sent both of the Packers fourth round picks to Seattle, along with number thirty, for the twenty-first pick, selecting Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. A late riser in the draft process, Savage Jr’s stock was boosted by a strong week at the Senior Bowl, and an outstanding showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He immediately becomes one of the fastest safeties in the league after running a 4.36 forty-yard dash in Indianapolis.
Savage easily displays some of the smoothest man coverage skills in the entire class, as he is able to turn and run with both slot receivers and tight ends. His explosiveness will be a welcome sight in Green Bay, and he has the strength to match up with bigger receivers down the seam. The Packers defense also just became even more multiple on the back end, as Savage demonstrates the ability to play the deep middle, as a box safety, nickel, or even as a blitzer. He’ll even ball out on special teams! Nothing to not love about this pick, as the senior from Maryland has been compared favourably to Lamarcus Joyner, now of the Oakland Raiders. I see some D.J. Swearinger in Savage’s game as he enjoys laying the wood on receivers in the middle of the field, and patrols the back end of the defense with a high level of ferocity. Savage Jr plays with a level of urgency so desperately needed in Green Bay that this pick has to be graded with an A.
The possibilities were endless for the Packers heading into Day 2 of the NFL Draft. First round level talent had fallen in spades, letting the Packers simply sit back and let an impact player fall into their laps. As luck would have it Mississippi State stalwart offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins did just that. Having played all over the Bulldogs line, Jenkins is another versatile prospect who will most certainly be playing guard to begin his career in Green Bay. The 6’4, 313 pounder spent the last two years starting twenty five games at center, and was highly graded by just about everybody in the scouting community. Jenkins has the base strength and power that will be a welcome addition in Green Bay. He also consistently exhibits the ability to get to the second level and be a successful blocker in space, a key to Matt Lafleur’s zone blocking scheme. Jenkins selection is not a sexy, A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf style pick for the Packers offense. Nonetheless, his addition will prove to be far more impactful on Sundays this fall.
The third round offered the Packers the opportunity to finally add some more help for Aaron Rodgers. A smooth route runner, with the ability to make contested catches, and rack up yards after the catch; Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger is the ideal understudy to Jimmy Graham. The son of a football player and basketball player from the University of Southeastern Oklahoma, Sternberger carries on the family tradition of being an elite athlete. He can be lined up all over offensive sets, and paired with Aaron Rodgers, will create mismatches all over the field. Jace actually spent a year in JUCO with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, before becoming a star for Jimbo Fisher last year in the SEC. He is a true threat down the seam, with the ability to traumatize defenses over the middle of the field for years to come. Basically, Sternberger is what Jimmy Graham was suppose to be and gives Aaron Rodgers another weapon to play with. Superb selection for the Packers.
Day three of the NFL draft is where the meat and potatoes of rosters are selected. Many scouts and general managers have made the point that any pick after the top one hundred is nothing more than a throw at the dart board. Yet, there are Pro-Bowl level players that slip through the cracks every year. Let’s not forget, David Bahktiari, T.J. Lang, and Josh Sitton were all day three selections.
At pick number 150, the Packers may have found a hidden gem. Kingsley Keke the college teammate of third round choice Jace Sternberger at Texas A&M, has all the potential in the world. Listed at 6’3, 288 pounds, Keke (do you love me?) has some of the best “flash” plays in this class. His explosiveness off the line allowed him to make all-world SEC offensive lineman, like Elgton Jenkins, look like pylons at times. The problem is, there simply weren’t enough of these plays. Inconsistency plagued Keke throughout his time in college, leading to his fall to the fifth round. He does however, display all the traits one would want in a starting caliber defensive lineman. He has good quickness, light feet, and an assortment of pass-rush moves that point to him being a contributor at the next level. At A&M, he looked disinterested at times, thus he will need to prove to the coaches at 1265 Lombardi that he can be trusted on the field. NFL coaching will be key to Keke’s success, as he will need to refine his technique and play with far more urgency to unlock his potential. Another high ceiling pick for the Packers.
The Packers made Ka’Dar Hollman, the cornerback from Toledo their pick at number 185. Hollman is another long lanky corner, standing 6′, 196 pounds, who has incredible athletic gifts as he runs a 4.36 40-yard dash. But his story may be even more fascinating. A no-star recruit out of high school, Ka’Dar worked odd jobs and sent his highlight reel across the nation in the hopes of playing college ball. Eventually, he walked on at Toledo, and never looked back. He battled NFL-caliber receivers in practice everyday, and wowed at the school’s Pro Day. He is another man-cover corner for Mike Pettine to play with, and had thirteen passes defensed in 2018. Hollman reminds me of a poor man’s Nnamdi Asomugha, as he has fantastic hip mobility, and the ability to mirror receivers in short areas. Packers secondary coach Jason Simmons will love Hollman’s physicality at the line of scrimmage. Ka’Dar has first-rate change of direction skills, and can turn and run with the best receivers out there. Similiar to many corners coming out of college, he will need to learn how to tackle. Ultimately as a sixth round pick, the Packers would be hard pressed to do better than Hollman, who could develop into a real contributor.
With their second selection of the sixth round, the Packers added to their staple of running backs choosing Notre Dame back Dexter Williams. Williams has ideal size for the position at 5’11, 219 pounds and will fit well in Matt Lafleur’s zone scheme. He shows the patience to allow the hole in front of him to open up, and doesn’t waste any time once it has. A pure one-cut runner, Williams should be a bowling ball at the next level. The commitee back from Notre Dame only had 257 carries in his collegiate career and should arrive in Wisconsin fresh and ready to battle. Dexter had nowhere to hide the bodies this past year against Florida State, as he turned 20 carries into 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also has an outstanding relationship with his mother, who moved in with her son following his four-game suspension last year. Williams compares favourably to current Packers back Jamaal, and I believe in LaFleur’s scheme he could have a Michael Turner-like impact.
Round seven is where dreams come to fruition, as prospects who sit by their phone in anticipation for three days finally hear their names called. The Packers once again draft a high upside player with premium athleticism. Ty Summers of TCU is a Jake Ryan replacement who can come in and contribute right away on special teams. He has outstanding movement skills, and has overcome multiple injuries to become a professional. Despite his athletic abilities, he is too often out of position and slow to react. He simply whiffs on far too many tackles to be a starting caliber player at this point in his career. Summers will be a special teams demon and provide great depth in Green Bay.
Brian Gutenkunst second draft in charge looks like an impressive haul. The board fell nicely for Gutey, as he managed to add high impact players at positions of need. Edge-rusher, safety, tight end and offensive line were many draft analysts targets for Green Bay, and a high-ceiling prospect was added for each. Defensive depth was the target on day three, and the Packers selected elite athletes with the capability to come to Green Bay and create competition. Overall, I would give this draft a B grade, with the potential to easily become an A. Much will be expected of Rashan Gary in the years to come, as the Packers have bet on him becoming an absolute game-wrecker. This class will be judged on their ability to help Aaron Rodgers win Superbowls, and after this weekend, the defense simply must be able to hold up their end of the bargain. No more excuses in Titletown.Nick is a lifelong Packers fan. 4th and 26 was on his 13th birthday, unlucky. Follow him @CANDRAFTGEEK647 on Twitter for all your Packers draft needs and questions.