2019 First Round Redraft: Opinion

What if Darnell Savage went 12th overall and Rashan Gary went 21st overall?

Brian Gutekunst has had both successful and questionable draft selections in his three-year stint as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers. While the 2020 draft class was littered with polarizing selections, it’s possible no player has divided the fanbase more than 2019 12th overall selection Rashan Gary, edge rusher out of Michigan. 

The Packers were spoiled with two first-round selections in 2019, the second pick being used on safety Darnell Savage out of Maryland. Savage was selected to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team his rookie season and tied for second on the team with two interceptions.

In his rookie season, Gary posted two sacks, 31 total tackles, and played in 24% of defensive snaps while starting zero games. The numbers aren’t terrible, but they don’t necessarily jump out as a player drafted 12th overall.

So let’s compare those numbers to other edge rushers in the 2019 class. Ed Oliver, who went ninth overall to the Buffalo Bills, finished his rookie campaign with five sacks, 43 total tackles, and eight quarterback hits while playing 54% of defensive snaps. Clelin Ferrell, another edge rusher drafted fourth overall by the Raiders, finished his rookie season starting 15 games, had 4.5 sacks, and 38 total tackles playing 62% of defensive snaps. 

If we double Gary’s numbers and say he played 48% of defensive snaps, that comes out to four sacks and 62 total tackles, and then the numbers look pretty comparable to a few others in the 2019 draft class. And while Nick Bosa (nine sacks, 14 games started, 76% of defensive snaps) and Josh Allen (10.5 sacks, four games started, 60% of defensive snaps) are also amongst the 2019 edge class, I’d consider them the exception rather than the norm when it comes to first-year impacts on their given teams. They also played a significantly larger role on their respective teams. 

That got me thinking, had Savage been drafted first at 12th overall with Gary selected at the end of the first round, would that have made a difference? Would expectations be different? Would Gary’s numbers at 21st overall indicate a rising star off the edge rather than someone Gutekunst took a gamble on? 

Consider Gary’s numbers taking only 24% of defensive snaps with zero starts. He’s stuck behind two talented rushers in Za’Darius Smith (13.5 sacks) and Preston Smith (12 sacks), edge rushers the Packers invested a significant amount of money in during free agency. So naturally, Gary’s opportunities have been limited.

Meanwhile, Savage was selected as an immediate starter to pair opposite Adrian Amos. The expectation from draft night was that the Packers had found a new mainstay in the secondary to replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. 

Kyler Fackrell exceeded expectations in 2018 starting seven games and tallying 10.5 sacks while playing 59% of defensive snaps. In 2019, he dropped to only one sack and 23 total tackles playing 40% of snaps on defense. 

Again, if Gary’s numbers are doubled from the 2019 season, he far-exceeds the stats put up by Fackrell who’s now a New York Giant. With Gary elevated to the team’s third edge rusher this season, knowing his versatility and what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has in mind for his front seven, Gary can create pressure off the edge or along the interior of the defensive line lining up across the center or guard. 

While we can expect second-year leaps from both Gary and Savage, it’s still worth questioning what a successful second-year jump does for Gary. Will that justify his 12th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, or will Packers fans critique the selection to infinity and beyond based on his top-20 status? Only time will tell at this point.

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (24)

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arthurl's picture

August 07, 2020 at 06:47 am

It may pan out for Gary in GB. This will be the season where if this was a good pick, it will begin to show. I just feel the Packers have spent a lot of early picks on defensive guys that haven’t panned out and hope this isn’t another one of those picks.

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Stroh's picture

August 07, 2020 at 02:42 pm

What other early picks have they had? They have been picking at the end or rd 1 for a decade or more! This was a higher draft pick than they've had since Raji at #9. After him maybe Bulaga, but he was a mid 1st rd at 19th? overall. The difference makers are gone in the top 10 and this wasn't even a top 10 pick. When drafting at the end of rd 1, your basically selecting a player w/ a 2nd rd grade in rd 1. Most drafts have at most 20 maybe 25 in some years, legit 1st rd picks. After that its all 2nd rd picks that the Packers have been forced to draft in rd 1.

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marpag1's picture

August 07, 2020 at 03:20 pm

Bulaga was 23.

I get what you're saying about picking late, that it's different than picking early. Of course that's true. But it's a specious argument to say that there are generally only 20 "legit" first round picks in an average year. In the big picture, the talent is what it is, and the top 32 guys deserve to be first round picks. That's it.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 07, 2020 at 07:14 am

I've always thought the best way to judge a general manager's "draft" is to look at the big picture: Who was added or subtracted through the draft AND free agency? Forget how high someone was picked, we're talking about trying to forecast "who is going to be good," but also "what moves are going to improve YOUR team?"
In 2019's draft, the highest rated player for me, at the time of the Packer's pick, was Brian Burns. However, I did not "draft" him, because the Packers had a 10 sack OLB in Fackrell and had just added two OLBs in their prime (Smiths). I didn't like R Gary until about the early 2nd round, because I saw him loafing too often on plays that weren't run at him, and I consider effort a huge part of NFL success.
I ended up "taking" DL Christian Wilkins, not a great pick currently, but not a terrible one either, and he'd certainly answer a current question on the roster.
The guy I picked with our second pick was OT Jawaan Taylor, another current hole filled. My 2nd round pick was my best: I loved Juan Thornhill going in; I saw him as a Nick Collins clone. He ended being as good as or better than D Savage, started on the Super Bowl winning team, and made the All-Rookie team.
We'll see how Gute's picks work out, but drafting is always an "educated crapshoot."

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 07, 2020 at 02:25 pm

I liked Thornhill and Lawrence and Eric McCoy. I suppose if I include trading back, perhaps somehow GB could have ended up with Lawrence, Risner (Risner went 41st, so a trade back from 30 to 38 might have been possible), Jenkins and Thornhill.

That said, a little honesty: I would have taken Brian Burns, Risner and Thornhill. I didn't include a small trade-back at 13 to maybe still nab Lawrence because I wouldn't have done that: I'd have taken Burns. Maybe I would have traded back from 30 to pick up a 4th or 5th but maybe not.

So far, the trio of Gary, Savage and Jenkins looks pretty good.

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marpag1's picture

August 07, 2020 at 03:28 pm

Heck, even if we say that Gary is a complete bust (I don't think he is, but even if), the duo of Savage and Jenkins ain't too shabby, and two out of three isn't bad. I don't think most people know how good Jenkins is. He is not, and never will be, Quentin Nelson, but for a rookie he was damn good, and will be a stud for years to come. About a year ago I made a quip on this site that I'm rather proud of now. I said, "FIve years from now, people will remember Gutey as 'the guy who drafted Elgton Jenkins.'" Of course, I've made a few other predictions that didn't work out quite so well :)

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stockholder's picture

August 07, 2020 at 07:30 am

I wouldn't have drafted Gary. I would have taken Burns first. But since Christian Wilkens was there. He would have been my pick. I wouldn't have traded up for Savage. That said; Dalton Risner would have been my pick, and replaced Bulaga. ( Savings Wagnors salary And a 3rd round pick. ) Next, I would have drafted Juan Thornhill for safety. I loved him more then Savage. And finally the 3rd saved would have went for Pratt or Winovich. I also would have Traded in the 4th for another OL. But instead Gutey took a back-up LB in Gary. Savage - starter. left Guard that was forced into Starter. And Ke Ke back-up. Panic.= I see Panic with Gutey. Not what the draft class can bring him.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

August 07, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Wonderful how highsight works

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PeteK's picture

August 07, 2020 at 08:23 am

I don't think it would have made a small difference in expectations. That was then and this is now. I have not seen any reports on his weight, but was hoping that he would weigh in at high 280s. This could make him that power/speed DE that can successfully handle the pass and RUN. Reports out of college had him a better inside player. Besides the numerous players at inside LB, he is a key to our defensive improvement.

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Handsback's picture

August 07, 2020 at 08:43 am

Gary may surprise this year if they have a season. His play was very limited last year because of 2 new players in the same position and returning player coming off a pretty good season. Last year was time of healing that shoulder w/o surgery and learning Pettine's defense. Without a lot of technique he came really close to a lot more sacks.
Better tech. and stronger body and we might well see Zman's clone that will stop the run! Burns was a good fit in Carolina...not so much for what Pettine is looking for. As far as Savage? He could have the same impact on the DBs as Earl Thomas did at Seattle.

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TheVOR's picture

August 07, 2020 at 10:05 am

Here's the thing dude, you didn't have to take Savage at 12. I've relived this horror show time and time again with nothing but regrets. I really feel Gutz blew this "opportunity".

What if GB doesn't draft Gary, or make a selection at 12. Lets say they dropped back to any pick via a trade, between 13 and 21, and selected Savage, you likely would still have Savage, you would have had the Saints pick at the end of round 1, you likely would have had an additional #2 selection, and could have selected a huge pool of depth, being 5 players in the first 76 selections of the draft?

Players like Riser, Lock, DK Metcalf, on and on.. Instead they selected Gary, and moved up for Savage, which blew away other picks, rather than adding potential players to your depth.

Could have had it all, just by not selecting Gary, and dropping back a handful of picks in the 1st round position. I'm a realist, I get that you can never tell what would have really happened. I also get that to make that drop back move, you have to have a willing trade partner. We'll never know if someone was interested in that 12 overall pick. My guess is they would have been, but I could never know that.

The sad part for Gary, is that at least for me, he'd have to become an absolute monster to ever have me viewing his selection as anything other than a bad draft pick.

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Packers2020's picture

August 07, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Great points, VOR.

Gute seems to get flustered when a draft does not go like his board and he moves up to make sure he gets a guy even if its a reach for that player. We have seen it the last two drafts now.

This year he moves up for Love when he doesn't have to and we could have gotten a DT and a WR in the late first and 2nd round. We also reached for Dillion and Deguara in the 2nd and 3rd rounds when we could have gotten a WR in the 2nd and probably still have gotten both of these players in the 3rd and 4th rounds. JMO.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 07, 2020 at 02:28 pm

This is my only concern about Gute so far: it looks like he falls in love with too many players. Once in a while is probably okay: GMs have to have opinions and confidence.

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Gman1976's picture

August 07, 2020 at 08:16 pm

Prediction: Gary is going to be a monster just like the Smith brothers. If the shoulder is healthy, his God-given gifts will blossom under the tutelage and the fire of the Smiths. Just thinking about it, makes me feel sorry for all those quarterbacks who are going to have to face these warriors and their quarterback hungry teammates.

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Scott Stach's picture

August 07, 2020 at 11:15 am

If Gary went at 21 then BG would have blown his second pick two drafts in a row.

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Stroh's picture

August 07, 2020 at 12:53 pm

If they took Savage at #12, fans would be ripping the GM for reaching to take a Safety that early! Safety isn't a pick for that high in rd 1 unless you absolutely know, and everyone else for that matter, that is is a transcendent player. Savage was NOT and some didn't have a 1st rd grade on him. This is pointless drivel.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 07, 2020 at 02:29 pm

I agree with this. Taking a safety at #12 would have gotten ripped, and rightfully so.

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Archie's picture

August 07, 2020 at 05:23 pm

I wasn't thrilled with the Gary pick on draft day but the jury is still out. He may be on a 3 or 4 year plan.

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Stroh's picture

August 07, 2020 at 07:23 pm

When he was drafted everyone in the building said he would be need to be developed. I think he gets somewhere in the 8-10 sack area in yr 2, he's right on course to become an impact player. He's alot like Cameron Jordan in NO. Look him up.

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GLM's picture

August 07, 2020 at 08:15 pm

I like Rashan Gary. I've moved on from this. However, for the sake of discussion, I'll say this: I was surprised we selected a D-lineman, especially an edge rusher, after we had already signed two prime free agents.

The best argument I can see is they were ready to move on from Fackrell, and were looking ahead to this year, and beyond. Given that context, it makes a lot of sense to draft Gary. Why Gary, and not Burns? You can move Gary inside. You can't do that with Burns.

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Rick1's picture

August 07, 2020 at 10:33 pm

Viewing draft picks after the rookie year is a over reaction. Rodgers and Adams are both great players and were not great year 1 or even year 2. Great teams keep gathering talent and that is what they have done. If both players improve and impact the game then you made good decisions on those players. The people that follow all the data can skew the numbers. I will always take the game film and decide on what I see. If they are put in spots to succeed and fail after 3 years then it is a bad pick.

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Hooty_Post's picture

August 08, 2020 at 10:22 am

I am looking forward to seeing what Gary can do in year 2. Whether we agree or disagree with the pick, he is a Packer. I am hoping his abilities inside on passing downs helps create more pressure up the middle along with the Smith bros. on the edge And Clark. If this works out then we will have a fun defense to watch. If not, then we might have a wasted pick.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 08, 2020 at 01:08 pm

I hope Gary excels this year and leads the league in sacks.

However, in Gary's first year, offensive coordinators likely did not game plan for him as they did Bosa. I watched a few games in which Bosa played and he reminds me of a larger version of a young Clay Matthews on steroids. The mistake we did make which was avoidable was passing on T. J. Watt. I sure would like to have seen him in Green and Gold.

I do like the way you wrote your article. Good for you.

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bradluff's picture

August 10, 2020 at 03:36 am

No player has divided the fanbase more than 2019 12th overall selection Rashan Gary, edge rusher out of Michigan.

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