GREEN BAY — Even with an offensive-minded head coach and a two-time NFL MVP quarterback closer to the end of the line than the beginning, the Green Bay Packers went defense with their two first-round picks Thursday night, taking Michigan defensive end/edge rusher Rashan Gary at No. 12 overall and Maryland safety Darnell Savage at No. 21.
The 6-foot-5, 281-pound Gary, who turns 22 in December, entered Michigan as one of the highest-rated high-school recruits in the nation but didn’t have massive production.
He played in just nine games last season and finished the year with just 3.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 45 overall tackles for the Wolverines.
Later on in the first round, the Packers traded two fourth-round picks – Nos. 114 and 118 – to the Seattle Seahawks to move up nine spots from No. 30 to No. 21 to take Savage.
Gary said he had “minimal” contact with the Packers in the run-up to the draft. “But I’m damn happy to be a Packer.”
Gary was a hand-on-the-ground defensive end for the Wolverines, but Packers college scout Joe Hueber, who covers the Midwest, said Gary will start out at outside linebacker in Green Bay but will move around in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme.
“To be honest, I’m just happy to be a Green Bay Packer. I can’t wait to get to work,” Gary said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters following the pick. “My work is yet to be finished. I just got my foot in the door.”
Gary played with a right shoulder injury last season but said that it will not require surgery.
“My shoulder is 110 percent,” Gary said. “I can’t wait to strap on the pads and get ready.”
The 5-foot-10, 198-pound Savage, who turns 22 in July, was a three-year starter at Maryland and ran a blazing 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
He started his college career at cornerback but moved to safety after his freshman year, going on to start all 12 games each of his final three seasons for the Terrapins, registering eight interceptions and 22 pass break-ups.
Savage said at the combine in Indianapolis in February that the enjoyed watching Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson, who was paired with Amos last season in Chicago.
Speaking on a conference call with Wisconsin reporters after the pick, Savage said he also watched Amos when tuning in to Bears games.
“Hopefully we can build something special in Green Bay,” Savage said. Asked if he expects to start as a rookie, Savage said he does.
“A confident person would say that,” Savage said. “But at the end of the day, whatever role I’m assigned to, whatever I’m asked to do, I’m going to do it at the highest level.”
NFC North picks
LIONS: Detroit ignored their relatively recent history when it came to drafting tight ends and focused on the future.
Detroit addressed perhaps its top priority, selecting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick. The Lions were initially interested in trading their first-round pick to acquire more selections, but decided he was too good to pass up.
As the league shifts to passing more, tight ends are becoming a position where teams want difference-makers.
“It’s become a valued position,” Hockenson said before the draft. “A three-down tight end who can run past defenders when needed and block when needed is special.”
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Hockenson won the John Mackey Award last year, honoring the college football’s top tight end. Hockenson had 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine receiving touchdowns in his career with the Hawkeyes.
Hockenson, who is from Chariton, Iowa, was a second-team All-America and first-team All-Big Ten player last season. He led Iowa with 760 yards receiving and was second on the team with 49 receptions and six touchdowns.
VIKINGS: Minnesota selected North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick, using their first-rounder on an offensive lineman for the first time in seven years.
With the front five again their position of greatest need, the Vikings could hardly have had the board fall to them any better. Alabama tackle Jonah Williams, who could wind up as a guard in the NFL, was the first blocker off the board at No. 11 to Cincinnati. Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom went to Atlanta at No. 14.
Then the Vikings had their pick of the rest, with Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor, Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford and Washington State tackle Andre Dillard all available.
With the 6-foot-3, 306-pound Bradbury, the Vikings got a mobile anchor and a natural fit with the zone-blocking scheme they’ll be favoring to try to generate more of a running game and keep the pressure off quarterback Kirk Cousins. Pat Elflein, who has been the starting center since being Minnesota’s third-round draft pick in 2017, becomes a strong candidate to move to guard, his primary college position.
The Vikings did not go with another cornerback. General manager Rick Spielman even joked this week at his pre-draft news conference that his wife told him not to come home if the Vikings were to use that precious first-rounder on another player at the head coach’s favorite position, where Mike Zimmer has helped develop several draft picks into standouts over the last five seasons.
The only other time in the 13 drafts the Vikings have had with Spielman that they made an offensive lineman their first pick was 2012, when tackle Matt Kalil went to them at No. 4 overall. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but his five-year tenure with the team was mixed at best. That was the first draft with Spielman as the final decision-maker. When he was vice president of player personnel before his promotion, Spielman shared authority with the head coach.
The Vikings have only used a first-round selection on an offensive lineman three times in the past 30 years: Kalil, Bryant McKinnie (2002) and Todd Steussie (1994). They were each picked for at least one Pro Bowl. Two of the three others taken in the first round in Vikings history, Randall McDaniel (1988) and Ron Yary (1968), are Pro Football Hall of Fame members.
BEARS: Chicago did not have a first-round pick. Their first selection comes at No. 87 in the third round.