While watching the Green Bay Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night I couldn’t believe what I was watching. No, it wasn’t the stale Mike McCarthy offense that stunned me, I have grown accustomed to that. It was the play of outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell. Unless you are living off the grid, you know that Fackrell has been a lightning rod for criticism from Packers fans. The fact that former general manager Ted Thompson spent a third round draft choice in 2016 and that Fackrell had done close to nothing in his first two seasons in the NFL, he was an easy target. But this season, something has changed with Kyler Fackrell. While the Packers as a team are struggling, the same can’t be said about Fackrell. He is consistently making critics eat their words.
If you witnessed Fackrell play his rookie or even his second season you would have seen a player that didn’t do anything exceptionally well. Fackrell had great length for an outside linebacker, standing 6’5” tall. He also had experience playing in a 3-4 defense while at Utah State, the same scheme former defensive coordinator Dom Capers ran. But even with the length and experience, Kyler Fackrell still struggled and it appeared that once his rookie contract was over, he would be gone and forgotten.
However, things started to change for Fackrell this season. Although he didn’t register a sack until week four of this season, when he did, he did so in a big way. Against the Buffalo Bills, Fackrell chalked up three sacks. Sure, one of the sacks was a “pile jumper” but the other two were legitimate sacks. Something the Packers rarely saw in Fackrell’s first two seasons as a professional.
By no means are we saying that Kyler Fackrell is a finished product. But from what fans have witnessed this season, they have to be happy that he might be finally “getting it”. This past Thursday night against the Seahawks, Fackrell put together his best game as a professional.
For the second time this season, Fackrell registered three sacks in a game. Three sacks in one game is very impressive, but making it more impressive, he did it against Seahawks offensive tackle Duane Brown. Brown is one of the better offensive tackles in the league and Fackrell found success going against him.
But his pass rushing wasn’t the only thing that made it Fackrell’s best game as a professional. Packers first year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine asks more from his outside linebackers than Capers once did. In Pettine’s scheme, outside linebackers are asked to rush the passer, but also drop into coverage and play against the run just as equally. Fackrell, who had five total tackles on Thursday night, was just as successful against the run and in coverage as he was rushing the passer. It seems that in Pettine’s scheme, Fackrell feels more comfortable and it appears the Packers are getting the most out of him.
If Kyler Fackrell keeps playing the way he did on Thursday night, although we believe he doesn’t need it, it will help Thompson’s legacy. Since being moved to a senior adviser role, a lot has been written about Thompson’s last three draft classes. Many experts believe that Thompson didn’t do the current Packers roster any favors by his selections.
But if Fackrell continues like he has this season, that 2016 draft class, especially from the defensive side, will look pretty darn good. From that draft class, if you count Fackrell as a starter, the Packers have four starters on defense from that class. First round pick Kenny Clark has been a standout this season. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez, one of two fourth round draft choices that season, is a starter and has become the quarterback of the Packers defense. Fellow fourth round draft choice Dean Lowry has stepped in as a starter when Muhammad Wilkerson was lost to a season ending ankle injury. Four contributing players out of one class is a pretty good percentage for a draft.
Many, including this writer, had written Kyler Fackrell off. But the Packers patience, a new defensive scheme, are starting to pay off for the Packers and Fackrell. Although he will need to show that this season isn’t just a rarity, he has given the Packers hope. Which not many of us could say before this season for Kyler Fackrell.