One would have to meticulously look up and down the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster from a year ago to find a player more written off and cast aside than Kyler Fackrell was by the local media and fan base.
The Utah State grad entered his third season having accumulated just five sacks in his first two years after being selected in the third round in 2016. Whether it was failing to live up to his draft status or his actual play on the field, Fackrell was the Twitter whipping boy and almost a surprise keep at the end of last year’s training camp. But the jokes ended up being returned during the season as Fackrell notched 10.5 sacks to lead the team; meanwhile, no one else finished with more than six. While the 2018 season was abysmal in many regards, Fackrell’s emergence as a contributor was a pleasant surprise.
Green Bay currently has ten third-year players on the roster this spring, including several faces that are in a Fackrell-like position of having limited time to prove themselves. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams should be expected to take a jump forward in carries and production in Matt LaFleur’s system in 2019, but here are a few names on the defensive side of the ball who will have opportunities to exceed their humble expectations.
Questions about the security of Adams’ roster spot have been raised by this author before, but the former Auburn defensive lineman is in a similar position heading into the season as Fackrell was just a year ago.
Another former third-round pick who has yet to live up to his billing, Adams has collected just 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks over 23 appearances for the Packers. Like Fackrell, Adams’ potential to be a true rotational piece has become an afterthought, especially with the addition of Kingsley Keke. Talent and depth was a problem at the edge last season, which helped Fackrell earn playing time. That’s not necessarily the case with the defensive line at this juncture. That could lead to tight numbers at the position on the final roster and limited snap counts. However, increased competition can sometimes breed increased motivation.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein once interestingly summed up Adams in his 2017 draft profile.
Adams disappointed the scouting community with a pedestrian junior season that lacked passion and production. (As a senior), he played with greater consistency of effort and found his way into the backfield far more often.
Can Adams re-gain that passion and effort consistently in his third season to find his once-high ceiling?
Outside of a jersey number change this offseason, the news surrounding Jones has been focused on his assumed replacements, veteran Adrian Amos and rookie Darnell Savage. The visions of Jones’ role in the Packers’ defense are still blurry. Is he a linebacker or a safety? Is he both? Either way, his inconsistencies in coverage and as a tackler taking angles have stunted his growth at each position.
While training camp and preseason games are not the best barometer for a rookie’s potential during the regular season, Jones was a hot name during his first summer in Green Bay. His size, speed, and athleticism was unique to the defense at the time and his college tape revealed a player who was unafraid to hit ballcarriers. So far, fans have not seen that type of enforcer at the pro level. With just one interception and no forced fumbles through 29 games, Jones enters a make-or-break season for the Packers. But positional competition and depth could not only push Jones improve, but take some of the pressure off of him. The tools are still there for Jones to make the leap and a second year with Mike Pettine might allow Jones to make those necessary adjustments.
Between King’s injury history, the early draft choices of Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson last season, and the undrafted find of Tony Brown, it can be easy to forget about the former 33rd overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft. With just 15 games played in two seasons and one interception, King is still a ways away from even getting fingertips on his professional ceiling. And while he can certainly still reach those heights, time is ticking for a player who finally posted his first interception and Pro Football Focus elite game ranking in his 12th career game.
With extra reliability anticipated from the Packers’ new safeties, perhaps King will be able to have more opportunities to take risks in playing the ball with his lengthy arms and frame. Consistency comes with experience and experience comes with good health. If King can stay on the field for 16 games next season, there might be a new outlook on his ability to be a difference maker. After all, he matched up fairly well one-on-one against the NFL’s top receivers as a rookie. King is a sneaky under-the-radar pick to become a key component of the Packers’ defense in 2019.