Darnell Savage Key to Unlock Packers Defense

By now, Packers reporters and bloggers have talked ad nauseam about the new look Green Bay Packers’ defense. The odd man out of the noise seems to have become fourth-year safety Darnell Savage Jr. In fact, it should be the opposite. Going into this season, Savage might be the player that could prove to be the key needed to unlock the full potential of the Packers’ defense.

The Packers’ secondary looks ripe for talent and potential this year with Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas, and Adrian Amos alongside Savage set to take the field. A lot has been said about the impact Alexander will have upon his return and how much of an underrated force Amos has been since arriving in Green Bay. However, improved play out of Savage deep in the middle of the Packers’ defense will push this unit to unprecedented heights.

The versatility Savage brings to the table in Green Bay could become one of the most dangerous weapons in the league thanks to the added help taking some pressure off his plate. The instinctive threat Savage possesses allows a pass rush to feast against hesitant quarterbacks. The ability to be used all over the field also gives opposing offensive coordinators another factor that will keep them up at night the day before facing them. Simply put, Savage is the one on the Packers’ defense that more eyes should be focusing on this season.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 21: Darnell Savage #26 of the Green Bay Packers attempts to intercept a pass intended for Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

When Brian Gutekunst traded up to snag Savage with the 21st pick in the 2019 draft, the Packers had high expectations for what he could become. Savage came into the draft as a highly prized prospect after running a 4.36 40-yard dash and showing off freakishly athletic ability at the NFL combine. He was seen by many as an instinctive safety with a great mix of range and speed to cover deep downfield and prevent big plays.

That’s exactly what Savage showcased on the field in Green Bay during his first two seasons. In his rookie year, Savage snagged two interceptions with five pass deflections and 55 combined tackles, per Pro Football Reference. Going into year two, Savage jumped up to four interceptions on the year with 12 pass deflections and 75 combined tackles. The improvement from year one to year two was a sight to see out of Savage. However, his regression in year three started to bring some questions.

Don’t get me wrong, in an injury-filled 2021 defensive season for the Packers, Savage managed to be a reliable force, starting all 17 games on defense. Despite that, Savage’s stats showed a decline from his previous two years, recording just two interceptions and 63 tackles. But there’s an easy explanation for that slight regression. For starters, the addition of Douglas and the emergence of Stokes helped take the pressure off of the backend of the Packers’ defense while fellow safety Amos became the one who saw an uptick in tackles last season.

Therefore, it’s imperative not to tie Savage’s stat decline to nothing more than an improved unit surrounding him. That being said, the Packers should still be hoping to see the 2021 version of Savage return this season. The Packers still have high hopes for Savage becoming a franchise guy, but they seem to be relying on this upcoming season for Savage to prove it. Packers picked up Savage’s fifth-year option back in April, keeping him in place through the 2023 season. If Savage can prove he can return to form this season, he might enter that fifth year with a hefty pay raise.

The Green Bay Packers are well known throughout the league for always taking care of their players and reaching extensions before they reach free agency. However, safety has been a tricky unit for the Packers to commit to the last few years. Most notably, the Packers allowed safeties Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to walk in the past providing mixed outcomes. Hyde became an All-Pro player for the Buffalo Bills while Clinton-Dix has struggled to catch on with multiple teams. Nevertheless, this will be a big deciding year for the Packers while determining Savage’s future.

There is the optimism of an improved season coming Savage’s way in 2022. Savage is set to become more comfortable under second-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme, Alexander is expected to return to a stacked cornerback position, and at 24 years old, he’s just started tapping into the prime of his career. Expectations should always be high for players entering into training camp, but for Savage, his extra motivations this season could be a sign of a career year on the way.

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Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.

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