Second year Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage is one of the NFL’s fastest rising defensive stars.
Sure, pumping the brakes is probably a smart idea considering Savage is only in his second season, but you cannot ignore what he’s doing out on the field right now.
He’s been one of the Packers’ best players on the field over the last six or seven games. And he’s getting better with each game. All defensive backs take time to adjust to the NFL’s style of play. Well, Savage has adjusted and is finally playing his position with the natural speed in which he was blessed with.
The Green Bay Packers have been desperate for a star at safety ever since they lost Nick Collins to a neck injury in Week Two of the 2011 season. Which begs the question: Is Savage merely a mirage? Are Packers fans so hoping he’s a star that they’re starting to see Collins out on the field wearing Savage’s No. 26 jersey? Or is Savage the real deal?
Well, the answer might be both.
In some ways it really is like seeing Collins out on that field, except it’s all Savage. He’s his own man. It’s exciting. It’s tempting to believe that Savage is going to continue to develop the way Collins did. But what we have to remember that Collins was one of the NFL’s premier safeties and, in our opinion, was on a potential Hall of Fame pace.
But the potential for Savage to reach that point seems more than possible, given the similarities these two players share.
Where the Collins-Savage Comparison has Legs:
Their Combine measurements were eye-opening from day one.
Collins ran a 4.36 40-yard dash.
Savage ran a 4.36 40-yard dash.
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. But it doesn’t end there.
Collins is 71″ tall.
Savage is 71″ tall.
Same exact height, that’s ideal. For what it’s worth, LeRoy Butler was also measured at 71″ tall at the combine, too, although listed as 6’0″ while in Green Bay. Collins and Savage are officially listed as 5’11”. It’s pretty clear the Packers’ front office has a ‘type’ for their playmaking safety. And all three safeties were drafted in the first two rounds of the draft, too. But again, the similarities don’t end with height.
Collins benched 11 reps of 225 lbs.
Savage benched 11 reps of 225 lbs.
OK so, same height and same strength. That’s intriguing.
Collins posted a 40.0 vertical jump.
Savage posted a 39.5 vertical jump.
So their jumping ability is within a half inch of each other. Pretty interesting, right?
Collins recorded a 4.16 shuttle time.
Savage recorded a 4.14 shuttle time.
Once again their measurements are nearly identical. We could keep going, but we think you get the point here. These two men, athletically and anatomically, are more similar than dissimilar.
Over the course of Collins’ injury-shortened career we saw his intelligence, instincts and confidence grow with each season. We’ll see if Savage can follow a similar growth. If the last few games are any indication, it’s a good bet.
Comparison Found in the Stats:
In Nick Collins’ first season he put up six ‘splash plays.’ That would be one interception, two forced-fumbles and three tackles for loss. He also posted eight passes defended.
In Darnell Savage’s first season he also put up six ‘splash plays.’ His were two interceptions, two forced-fumbles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit. Savage also had five passes defended.
OK, so the similarities remain even when measuring what they did out on the field as rookies. We’re not crazy, we’re not hyperbolic, we are witnessing something truly interesting here. Although it should be mentioned that Collins was a more prolific tackler in his first season.
Now lets look at their sophomore campaigns.
It was in year two that Collins really started to become the dynamic player we all came to love in Green Bay. He boasted eight ‘splash plays’ with three interceptions, a touchdown which we’ll separately credit, two forced-fumbles, and two tackles for loss. His 14 passes defended were impressive and once again he was a consistent tackler.
In Savage’s second season, he is similarly becoming a player that fans are beginning to love on defense. Through 14 games, with one game left to play, Savage has posted 11 ‘splash plays’ with four interceptions, one fumble recovery, one sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He’s defended 12 passes on the year so far.
So here we see Savage actually top Collins in year two ‘splash plays’ but again, Collins topped him on passes defended and total tackles.
Most importatnly both safeties made the big second year jump, statistically.
For what this is worth, Savage has as many interceptions after two season in Green Bay (6) as LeRoy Butler had. Collins had four interceptions in his first two years with the Packers. However his career high of seven interceptions was higher than Butler’s single-season career high (6).
It should obviously be pointed out that both Collins and Savage are faster than Butler was and they play a different brand of safety than Butler. It’s indisputable that Butler helped redefine the safety position and often played closer to the line of scrimmage and rushed the passer more than Collins did and Savage ever will.
Style of Play Comparison:
Darnell Savage, just like Nick Collins fourteen years before him, brought instant athleticism and speed to the Green Bay Packers’ defensive backfield. In football, the old adage is still true: speed kills.
Collins had the speed to handle teams trying to take the top off of the defense and Savage is beginning to shut that down, too. You absolutely cannot convince us that the Packers would have lost the 2014 NFC Conference Championship Game in Seattle if Collins had been there. He would not have been beaten over the top in overtime.
And that is exactly what made Collins so special. He was not only a consistent force in the defensive backfield, he had the knack of making the big play when it was needed. Whether he was intercepting Tony Romo in the end zone, pick-sixing the Chicago Bears, or making a key interception in the Packers’ Week 17 must-win game against the Bears in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl season.
Speaking of Super Bowl XLV, his interception returned for a touchdown will forever be one of the greatest postseason plays in Packers history.
Hopefully Savage will develop a nose for the end zone like Collins had. Collins, of course, led the NFL in interceptions returned for touchdowns and interception yardage in 2008.
Savage is starting to be that player that seems to be all over the field, much like Collins. The team, including head coach Matt LaFleur, obviously trusts him to follow his instincts and he has the speed to play ball-hawk as well as make up for mistakes. Like Collins, Savage isn’t going to be known for laying big hits every game, but occasionally will make a hit that gets you out of your seat.
Ball-hawks with elite speed and instincts. That is how these two safeties can be described despite the fact that their careers missed each other by eight years. Eight years where Packers fans could understand the importance of having an elite safety.
We couldn’t love these similarities any more, to be honest.
Honestly, the stats suggest that Savage is actually a hair ahead of Collins in terms of ‘splash plays.’ That should be encouraging to every single Packers fan. Green Bay has never had a great defense without an elite safety. They’ve certainly never won a Super Bowl without one (you can look all the way back to Willie Wood in 1966 and 1967 to confirm that). In truth, there’s rarely been a great defense in the modern NFL without a great safety.
It seems like the Packers finally have one again in Darnell Savage for the first time since Nick Collins. And of course Collins was the first since LeRoy Butler. In Green Bay, more than most places it seems, every position is a continuum.
Butler should be in The Hall, like Wood and newly inducted Bobby Dillon are. Those three men, along with Collins and one other safety we’d rather not mention (he wore No. 42) are the five best safeties in team history. Savage, it seems, has some grand plans to join that group in the coming years.
We just want to mention that Collins’ neck injury was incredibly brutal and we still haven’t gotten over losing the second half of his fantastic career. We wish him the best in life moving forward and only seek to honor his legacy by highlighting the similarities he shares with the exciting, young Darnell Savage.
The other starting safety on this 2020 Packers team, Adrian Amos, should get some credit, too. He’s been a leader and a reliable player this year and he is probably the best open-field tackler on the Packers’ defense. Simply put, he can lay the wood. Still, his ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Savage’s ceiling.
And that’s what makes Savage’s rise to stardom over the last month and a half so much fun to witness. It’s like the beginning of something very special for this franchise. Potentially the next in a long line of playmakers at the position.
It’s far, far too early to talk like this, but Savage’s legacy will ultimately be compared to that of Butler and Collins. Both of those guys helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl and both made a big play in their respective games. Those facts are undoubtably tied to their legacies. Hey, even Wood intercepted a pass in his first Super Bowl.
Just imagine how accelerated Savage’s legacy will be if he helps lead the Packers to a title this year as his play continues to develop and impress? This is a fun season and Savage is a big part of that fun.
Go Pack Go!