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'Born Ready': NFL Next For Maryland's Darnell Savage Jr.

April 4, 2019
Darnell Savage Jr. wandered around Maryland's pro day workout March 27 dressed in gray sweats and wearing a gold chain that read, "Born ready." 

He watched as his former Maryland teammates toiled away in the broad jump, three-cone drill and 40-yard dash in front of a host of NFL scouts scribbling in notebooks and holding stopwatches. 

Savage had already made a good impression on talent evaluators three weeks earlier at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ind. The four-year Terp ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.36 seconds) among defensive backs and eighth across all positions. 

"I wasn't surprised," Savage said of his 40 time, noting that he's previously run it in 4.27 seconds. "I knew I was capable of it. I don't think a lot of other people knew. I was just doing what I've been doing, just working hard and allowing everything to happen itself."

Savage notched four interceptions and 52 tackles in 2018, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. He compared his game to Chicago Bears Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson.

"Fast, physical. I think I kind of play the same," Savage said. 

Savage also impressed in the broad jump (126 inches) and high jump (39.5 inches) at the combine, leaving him little to do at the March 27 workout except catch up with his fellow teammates, many of whom he hasn't seen in months as he trained in New Jersey.

"I felt as if I already tested well enough at the combine," Savage said. "I just wanted to come here and be able to be with my team again. This is the first time we've all been together in the same place for a long time. Just being here is a great experience."

Savage did eventually participate in some field drills with fellow defensive back RaVon Davis, catching balls from former Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe and later working with personnel from the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals on hands drills.

With the NFL Draft just weeks away, Savage said he isn't planning to work out with any teams, but he does have several meetings scheduled. He's currently projected to be selected in the second or third round.

 His selling point to pro teams -- he met with the Pittsburgh Steelers April 3 -- is his easy-going nature that makes him a quick fit in any locker room, Savage said.

"I feel like people gravitate toward me," he said. "... I'm just a good person. I treat people right. ... I just try to be the person that my parents raised."

Savage said that teams have peppered him with questions about the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed following a team workout in May and died two weeks later. 

"They just wanted to know how we just came together and were able to still compete and play as we did," Savage said. 

Former head coach DJ Durkin was placed on leave following McNair's death and subsequent reports of abuse in the program. He was eventually reinstated and fired soon after, leaving the team to play for each other through the turmoil.

"It was a group effort," Savage said. "All of us came together and played for [McNair]."

Several of Savage's teammates, like offensive lineman Derwin Gray and defensive lineman Byron Cowart, both of whom also received combine invites, said they were also asked about McNair.

"It was kind of tough, man," Gray said. "[I] still think about Jordan in everything I do."

There are a few other Terps who aren't as highly rated as Savage but still have a chance to be drafted in later rounds or get picked up by a team. Linebacker Tre Watson and running back Ty Johnson performed well at the pro day workout and will wait to see if their name is called later this month.

"I feel like we all have a good chance of making an NFL team," Savage said. "I know those guys are working just as hard as I am. I'm praying for them."

Savage said he's been able to lean on his best friend, former Terp and current Carolina Panthers receiver DJ Moore, who went through the draft process last offseason as an underrated but talented receiver.

"One thing we both have is we are just good people," Savage said. "When teams ask about us, they really can't find anything negative about us as far as off-the-field issues or just kind of as a player. We just try to do things right and be ourselves."

Aside from Moore, Savage has no shortage of former Terps to talk to who have traveled a similar path to the professional ranks. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft, while Houston Texans safety A.J. Hendy and New England Patriots corner JC Jackson went undrafted in 2016 and 2018, respectively, before catching on with a pro team.

"There's a lot of guys I can go to and kind of ask for advice and ask how they adjust to everything," Savage said. 

No matter who he talks to for advice to navigate the complex waters of starting an NFL career, Savage remains as confident as the words on the gold chain he wears around his neck: "Born ready."

"I've always been told you put in the hard work and if you've had the right mindset and you treat people, right things will work out for you," he said. "I just live by that and continue to be me."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox