GREEN BAY – When the Packers made Darnell Savage the first defensive back off the board during the 2019 NFL Draft, the organization was hopeful it had found a first-round pick who could play right away as a rookie.
Eleven games into his NFL career, the 5-foot-11, 198-pound safety's progression has matched his promise.
Only 21 years old at the time he was drafted, Savage has amassed 44 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 673 defensive snaps played over his 11 NFL starts.
He's been part of a potent one-two punch on the back end with veteran Adrian Amos, one of the Packers' four marquee free-agent signings this past offseason who also has been off to a strong start in Green Bay thus far.
Every rookie goes through his process and Savage has been no different. While an ankle injury cost Savage two October games, the rookie safety has continued to settle into his role at free safety alongside Amos.
"I definitely think I've improved," Savage said. "Just as far as the mental side of it and taking care of my body throughout the week, having to battle back from the ankle, which is feeling a lot better now. I think I've improved in all aspects. My approach the game, I've got a routine now. Once you kind of settle in, then everything is a lot smoother."
Savage started 37 of the 46 games he played at Maryland, recording 182 tackles, 22 passes defensed and eight interceptions. He rose rapidly up the projections leading up to April's NFL Draft after clocking a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and a 39½-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
After being selected at No. 21, Savage was thrown into the Packers' starting secondary from the start of organized team activities. When the Packers opened the season against Chicago, Savage became the first rookie safety to start for Green Bay in Week 1 since Morgan Burnett in 2010.
Savage made his share of plays this year, with a forced fumble and interception in back-to-back weeks against Minnesota and Denver to start the year. Since shaking off the midseason ankle injury, Savage has returned to form and made an impact in solid defensive performances the past two weeks.
On Dec. 1, Savage picked off Giants quarterback Daniel Jones early in the fourth quarter and returned it 28 yards to the New York 38, which led to an eight-play Green Bay series that culminated in quarterback Aaron Rodgers hitting tight end Marcedes Lewis on a 1-yard touchdown.
This past Sunday, Savage forced a fumble of Washington running back Chris Thompson at the start of the second half. Terry McLaurin managed to recover the ball but Washington wound up going three-and-out one play later.
It should come as no surprise Amos also has shined as of late. Back in a traditional role after filling in as a box safety in sub-packages, Amos had an interception and sack in the first half against Washington. Amos' 849 defensive snaps played currently lead the entire Green Bay defense.
"(Him) just taking that big brother role to me; half the time I don't have to say anything or ask anything," Savage said. "I can just kind of watch him and take notes off that just being observant. He's meant a lot to me, my locker's right next to him, so I can ask questions whenever I need to, watch film with him. His house is always open to me. He's been a great role mode and just leader."
The stakes don't get much higher for Savage and the Packers with three NFC North games remaining in the 2019 regular season. Green Bay, sitting at 10-3 and seeking its first playoff appearance since 2016, will play host to the Chicago Bears this Sunday.
The game is rematch of the Packers' 10-3 win in Chicago on Sept. 5, a game in which the defense allowed only 213 total yards, and stopped the Bears on 12-of-15 third downs and two fourth-down attempts.
"We're just going to have to come out there and focus," Savage said. "(Secondary) coach (Jason Simmons) always tells us just breathe. Sometimes you can be a little too excited and then just be all out of whack, so just breathe and just continue playing and just play in good technique, use your eyes, and just stuff like that, reading your keys."