The writing seems like it has been on the wall for Kyler Fackrell since the Green Bay Packers overhauled their outside linebacker depth last offseason.
The big-money additions of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith prior to the 2019 season supplied the Packers with a fearsome pair of starters who didn’t spend much time on the sideline, bumping Fackrell into a backup role after he led the team with 10.5 sacks in 2018. The Packers also used their top pick in last year’s draft to acquire and start developing Rashan Gary into a future talent at the position.
Now, Fackrell is set to become a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent without much to leverage the Packers into re-signing him for the 2020 season and beyond, especially when there are more pressing needs for Green Bay to address this offseason. But just because Fackrell is likely to depart in free agency doesn’t mean his Packers coaches don’t hold a high opinion of him.
In fact, one of his Packers coaches believes Fackrell would be a starter for any other NFL team if he were to find a new home this offseason.
“Kyler would start for 31 other teams in the NFL if he was anywhere else,” Packers linebacker coach Mike Smith said, via The Athletic’s Jason Wilde. “That sucker is a hell of a football player.
“Kyler is an extremely intelligent person. We have our pass-rush meetings and I had him do (a scouting report on) one of the tackles, and it was one of the best reports I’ve seen on a tackle. It was like me standing up there and giving a report to these guys.”
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Should Fackrell’s Diminished Role in 2019 Concern Teams?
Fackrell earned more than $2 million in base salary last season after hitting his proven performance escalators and seemed like an exciting rotational piece for the Packers heading into 2019 with way more weapons at outside linebacker. Instead, the success of the Smiths saw him buried on the depth chart with his defensive snap count dropping from 58.6 percent in 2018 to 39.9 percent in 2019.
It isn’t hard to make sense of his decline, but teams interested in giving him a look in free agency should be asking themselves why the Packers went out and acquired three new outside linebackers in the first place if they truly believed in Fackrell’s potential. The limited opportunities Fackrell did receive during the 2019 season also exposed the weaker aspects of his game, particularly how often he is outmuscled on the edge.
Fackrell finished his fourth season in the league with just 19 tackles and ranked below average among edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Still, Fackrell didn’t pass through the 2019 season unnoticed. As Wilde identified, Fackrell was crucial in helping the Packers stop Christian McCaffrey on the goal line in the final play of their Week 10 win over Carolina. He also showed up big in Week 16 when they clinched the NFC North title, drawing a pivotal holding penalty that neutralized Kirk Cousins’ 53-yard touchdown pass that would have trimmed Minnesota’s deficit to just six points with plenty of time left on the clock.
“There are times you feel bad, giving him those roles or knowing his playing time is limited,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said, via Wilde. “But he’s the same guy whether he knows he’s featured in a plan and some of the pressures are in for him, or if he has some of the more thankless jobs. He just goes out and does his job, and he does it well. As he proved last year, he’s a very efficient pass rusher.”