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Packers 2020 Additions: Gutekunst used every avenue to overhaul the ILB position

Several new faces led to significantly better results.

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. Today, we examine the inside linebackers.

In 2019, the middle of the Packers’ defense was anchored mostly by Blake Martinez. Martinez was a tackle machine adept at finding the ball carrier, but he was frequently targeted and exposed in pass coverage. The Packers of 2019 didn’t use two inside linebackers often, but when they did, the other was generally Oren Burks or B.J. Goodson. There are a few things worth noting about this arrangement:

  1. Blake Martinez is now on the Giants, and was one of Pro Football Focus’ highest graded inside linebackers for 2020 (6th overall). He was especially adept in coverage.
  2. Playing next to Burks or Goodson or, in many instances, a safety like Raven Greene, may not have been good for Blake.
  3. Mike Pettine may not have been good for Blake.

After injuries to Greene made the Big Nickel/Big Dime less useful and the Packers started getting run on with impunity, they played Goodson more frequently. He wasn’t very good, and they still struggled against the run and pass. A few notes.

  1. BJ Goodson is now on the Cleveland Browns.
  2. In 2020, he was one of Pro Football Focus’ higher graded inside linebackers (21st overall). He was especially adept in pass coverage.
  3. Mike Pettine may not have been good for anyone.

Whatever the reason, the 2019 inside linebackers didn’t work for Green Bay. Enter, the new blood.

Kamal Martin

How Acquired: Fifth-round selection in 2020 NFL Draft (#175 overall)
Contract: 4 year, $3,566,064, $271,064 guaranteed
2020 Stats: 10 games, 24 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 QB hit

While Martin got off to a slow start due to a knee injury, once he returned he looked like the future of the position, stoning running backs, and providing adequate coverage on linebackers and running backs. Martin consistently stood out from his peers, always seeming to make his tackles just a yard or two deeper, and always seeming just a step or two faster.

While Christian Kirksey has lost a step or two and Krys Barnes is undersized and can be overpowered, Martin is the total package. He just needs to show that he can keep it up when his role expands next season.

Christian Kirksey

How Acquired: Signed as a street free agent
Contract: 2 year, $13,000,000 contract, $4,000,000 guaranteed
Stats: 11 games, 77 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hit, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defended

Kirksey played for Mike Pettine before in Cleveland, and that familiarity with the system paid off on numerous occasions. Kirksey was one an exceptional athlete, but guile served him much better in 2020, as he was frequently in the right place at the right time on pass defense, and disguised his rush opportunities with aplomb.

Kirksey is in that unfortunate part of his career when it’s all downhill, but he’s a smart player, and should be a good influence on his younger, faster cohorts. He’s an ideal veteran backup, but he’s going to be stretched as a starter.

Krys Barnes

How Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent
Contract: 2 year, $1,390,000 contract
Stats: 13 games, 80 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sacks, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumbles

Barnes is a good story. An undrafted free agent out of UCLA who started the season as practice squad fodder, and quickly ascended to opening day starter, Barnes was exceptional when chasing folks down. He struggled in pass coverage, and was occasionally overpowered in one-on-one matchups, but his speed was a welcome addition to the team, and when paired with Kirksey’s savvy, the suo functioned reasonably well.

Barnes is still young, and like almost all UDFAs, fairly raw in some of the more advanced skills of the game, but if he can convert some of that speed into more effective pass coverage, they may have a keeper.