The Green Bay Packers struggled to a 6-9-1 season in 2018. It was their second straight losing season after a run of eight consecutive post season appearances. The Packers ranked 14th in scoring at 23.5 points per game and were 22nd in points allowed, giving up 25 per contest. Looking to get back into contention this season, the Packers went to bolster the defense with their top selections in the draft. Here's a breakdown of their first five picks.
Round 1: (12th) Rashan Gary - DE (Michigan)
Gary made an impact as a freshman, registering 27 tackles including five for loss of yardage in 13 games. He was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2017 after recording six sacks and 66 total tackles. Although his overall numbers were down some as a junior last year, Gary was again named to the first-team.
He impressed at the combine, running one of the fastest 40 times among defensive linemen. The Packers love the combination of size and speed that Gary possesses and believes it will translate to production on the field. Although his sack totals were down last year, Gary was under the wrath of double and triple teams. If that happens at the NFL level, others along the line will benefit. Gary should be an instant starter and have an impact this coming season.
Round 1: (21st) Darnell Savage Jr - S (Maryland)
Savage was thrown into action from the beginning, recording 12 tackles in 10 games as a freshman. His production increased significantly as a sophomore to 59 tackles, four passes knocked down and an interception. He earned all-conference honors as a junior and a senior combining to record 111 tackles, 10 passes knocked down and seven interceptions.
The Packers filled the need for a safety with this pick. Savage ran one of the fastest 40's of any defensive back at the combine, coming in at 4.36. Savage has a lot of desire and motivation that makes up for his relative lack in stature. The idea for the Packers is to play newly acquired free agent Adrian Amos at strong safety and Savage at free safety.
Round 2: (44th) Elgton Jenkins - G/C (Mississippi State)
Jenkins played both ends of the offensive line during his 11 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he started three games at left tackle and two at left guard, in 12 total games played. Moving to center during his junior year, Jenkins started getting attention from the NFL and started 24 of his last 25 games at center.
Despite being ranked as one of the top few centers coming out of the draft, the Packers are solid at that position but have plenty of competition for the guard positions. Jenkins will likely work for a spot in a guard rotation or as a back up. It helps that Jenkins will rejoin Luke Getsy, who was offensive coordinator at Mississippi State a year ago.
Round 3: (75th) Jace Sternberger - TE (Texas A&M)
Sternberger was used sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2016 with Kansas before moving to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M as a sophomore, where has scored six touchdowns on 21 receptions. Heading to Texas A&M as a junior last season, Sternberger flourished, scoring 10 times on 48 receptions, earning SEC, All-American and team honors.
With tight end being the Packers biggest offensive weakness, they missed out on several of the top tight ends in the draft. However they feel comfortable with Sternberger fitting into the mix, with Jimmy Graham still the slated starter. He displays big size and although is now fleet of foot, finds ways to get down field, averaging 17 yards per catch last season. Sternberger will be a situational player this season with a chance to become a starter down the road.
Round 5: (150th) Kingsley Keke - DT (Texas A&M)
Keke played in 13 games as a freshman as a back up and started the last nine games as a sophomore in 2016, recording four sacks and 37 tackles. Getting a chance to start every game in 2017, Keke has 54 tackles. Making even a bigger impact last season, Keke registered seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 51 tackles overall.
Showing solid speed for a defensive tackle, running the 40 in 4.95 at the combine, Keke needs to improve his overall strength. He was moved to defensive end last season at Texas A&M after losing some weight and had his best season to date. He has unique athleticism as a pass-rusher and should improve his strength given time and can be a solid NFL contributor.