INDIANAPOLIS –- The Eagles and a lot of other NFL teams favor interchangeable safeties, who can play deep coverage and can also stop the run.
This draft isn’t brimming with such players, but one grew up right down the road in Bear, Del., weathered a number of trials at Maryland, and spoke with reporters Sunday at the NFL scouting combine, where insider buzz ranks him among the top handful of draft-eligible players at his position.
Darnell Savage – one of the up to 60 players the Eagles held 15-minute meetings with here – said teams have told him he is a “smart, instinctive player who makes a lot of plays.”
Eagles defensive fulcrum Malcolm Jenkins is 31, and though his safety partner Rodney McLeod is only going to be 29 this coming season, McLeod is off knee surgery. Behind them, as you saw in 2018, it’s a struggle.
Corey Graham will be 34 when camp starts and if the Eagles need to reach for him again, they’re in real trouble. Avonte Maddox was a rookie godsend last season, but the team seems to see him more as a corner. The Eagles have five selections in the first four rounds of the draft this year, and there is an excellent chance a safety will be among them.
Savage, 5-foot-10 ½, 198-pounds, is projected to go anywhere from the second to the fourth round. Some observers rank him not that far behind Delaware safety Nasir Adderley, a projected first-to-second-rounder from Philadelphia, though Adderley also could end up as a nickel corner.
One of the things teams ask him about, Savage said, is the situation following the collapse and death of defensive lineman Jordan McNair last summer. Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin ultimately was fired, and ESPN reported on a “toxic culture” within the program.
Savage said the players “came together and played for each other” through grief and chaos.
Savage played for three Terrapins head coaches. He acknowledged “a lot of adversity at Maryland.”
“I tried to transform my leadership role from lead-by-example to more of a vocal leader, as well,” Savage said. “Being able to be a guy that’s easy to talk to, and being able to start conversations, have those difficult conversations – I think you need those guys on every team. Everybody’s not always going to be on the same page, everybody’s not going to always have the same opinion, but at the end of the day, you have to be on the right page, and be able to compromise, for the betterment of the team.”
Savage also spoke to Sports Illustrated last month about the death of McNair and its aftermath.
“He was younger than me but I spent a lot of time just laughing and being around him,” Savage said. “One thing that helped me get through it is how his parents handled it and how they stuck together. They’re probably two of the strongest people I’ve ever been around. To go through something like that. They helped bring us all together as a family.”