The Cowboys secondary could use a little savagery.
Name: Darnell Savage
School: University of Maryland
Weight: 198 lbs
2018 stat line: 12 games, 52 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 2 passes defensed
Combine results: 4.36 40-yard dash, 11 bench press reps, 39.5” vertical, 126” broad, 7.03 3-cone, 4.14 short shuttle
As the Cowboys look to complete their defense after a strong showing in 2018, safety is one area they are looking to upgrade. Xavier Woods showed last year that he’s more than capable as one part of that equation, but the Rams game showed why Jeff Heath can’t be counted on as the other primary safety. Dallas needs a fearless run defender with enough versatility to play in pass coverage.
Maryland’s Darnell Savage seems to fit that mold perfectly. He more than lives up to his name as he is a vicious hitter who takes pleasure in initiating contact and bringing down the ball-carrier. He typically takes good angles and frequently lowers his shoulder to use his full frame to lay the lumber on opposing players.
It was surprising that Savage didn’t have a higher amount of bench press reps at the combine (he was third-lowest among safeties), as Savage plays with an at-times overwhelming amount of strength. He does a good job of shedding blocks through pure strength and bursting through to get to the ball.
But Savage’s physical play style doesn’t end there. He transfers it to pass coverage as well. Whereas most of the safeties in this class that are quality run defenders have average coverage skills, Savage shows an ability to succeed with regularity in deep zone coverage. Between him and Woods, Woods is the better single-high safety, but putting Savage back there in that role isn’t as big a risk as it is with others.
Savage has an electric burst out of his stance when in zone that allows him to react to the ball quickly. This has helped him become a ball hawk in his time at Maryland, as evidenced by his eight interceptions in three years. When the ball is in the air, Savage is going to play for the pick 99% of the time. It’s this aggressiveness that’d led to his impressive stats, and his ability to transition to a runner after making the interception, he averaged 19.1 yards per interception return in college, is just a cherry on the top.
However, Savage’s biggest weakness is his strength. While it’s admirable that Savage always goes for the big play or big hit, and when it works it’s certainly a game changer, the other side of things is that Savage can sometimes be too aggressive and wind up out of control. Sometimes he’ll go for the hit so hard that he misses the tackle, or he’ll whiff on the interception and give up a big catch instead.
That is something he will have to work on at the next level, especially playing the ball in the air. He has natural instincts that give him the potential to become a quality starting safety but he needs to rein in those instincts just a bit and become a more cerebral player. In Dallas, Savage would be working with one of the best defensive backs coaches in Kris Richard, and that could help him reach said potential.
Savage could go anywhere from the early second round to somewhere in the third round. If the Cowboys want him, they might have to use their 58th pick if he is still available. Right now, Savage is a bit of a boom or bust prospect, but with the right coaching he has the potential to be a high-quality safety. Dallas might be the perfect situation.