Packers roster construction part 7: the Linebackers! You can check out the previous parts here.
Since we do not know yet who the coordinator will be these articles will be written as if they will be running the same or a similar system that they have been using. If they hire someone where the system is different, these articles will be updated. Also I will be breaking up the linebackers into two groups since there is a big difference between the outside linebackers and inside linebackers in the Packers current 3-4 scheme. This article will cover just the inside guys.
So lets start with the assumed starter going into 2021. Krys Barnes. He came out of nowhere. Barnes was a undrafted free agent out of UCLA. Barnes was cut at the end of camp. He was even on the practice squad for about a day. He started 10 games as a rookie and acquitted himself well. Barnes made rookie mistakes. He showed enough upside that he could be a decent starting inside linebacker. The Packers really seemed to like him as the season went on. They even preferred him as their starter over Kirksey who was one of their offseason signing and was expected to be the starter. Expect him to be the starter heading into 2021.
Next is Christian Kirksey. The Packers signed him to a 2-year deal in the offseason. He was expected to be the leader of the defense. Some people even thought he would be even a slight upgrade over Martinez. When healthy, he showed to be a better athlete than Martinez. He fought injuries again and ended up starting 11 games. Kirksey looked slow early in the season. He was injured in the New Orleans game. When he came back and played more of the weakside linebacker spot he seemed to play a lot better. He is a prime candidate for being cut with the cap going down. The Packers have a few other young linebackers they will want to give more snaps to.
Kamal Martin flashed in camp and was looking like he was going to start next to Kirksey, but he hurt his knee shortly before the start of the season and had to have surgery. Once he came back he was behind Barnes in the rotation, so it took awhile for him to get back in the flow. He showed some good upside. He is aggressive and once he triggers, he explodes! His problem is he doesn’t always make the right read. Still a bit raw though since he started his first two years at Minnesota as a outside linebacker in their 3-4 and played QB in high school. He just needs more reps.
Next Oren Burks. A former 3rd round pick who just never really developed. He was given plenty of chances. They even tried him at outside linebacker. He lacks instincts and has trouble getting off blocks. The one area though that he has done well is special teams. He is a good special teams player. He will probably be brought back for camp but might not make the roster for next season.
Last but not least Ty Summers. Coming out of TCU, he tested very well at the combine. He had a RAS of 9.71. The reason he slipped so far in the draft was he was not a good tackler, and his instincts were questionable. He did not play a single snap on defense as a rookie. Due to injuries he ended up starting one game this season and playing in a number of others. He actually played OK. Still showed some issues with reading plays and tackling, but better than he did in college. He is also a good special teams player.
There are two other players on the roster in James Burgess and De’Jon Harris. Burgess played four games contributing two tackles but ended up on IR. They will probably bring him to camp but doubtful he makes the roster. Harris was on the practice squad all year. He was activated for two games but did not put up any stats. He is a little undersized at 6’0 230. Harris will probably get a shot next season like Burgess but its questionable he makes the roster.
With Pettine gone there is some uncertainty with where the packers will go with the position. Barnes is pretty set though. He will be a inside linebacker regardless of what kind of defense they go with. With Martin it depends, if they go with a 4-3 he would probably move to strong side outside linebacker. Other wise he stays where he is at. Summers could move to weak side if they move to a 4-3. The Packers usually do not value the position in the draft. They have not drafted a inside/middle linebacker in the 1st round since Nick Barnett in 2003.
It is possible they could draft someone early if they go with a different style defense, but very doubtful its anywhere before the 3rd round. If they stick with a similar defense I would not expect them to draft one until late day 3. Barnes, Martin, and Summers are all still on their rookie deals and all three have at least two years left on their deals.
If they do draft one early: Jabril Cox from LSU, Dylan Moses from Alabama, or Baron Browning from OSU all fit the Packers bill when it comes to inside linebacker prospects.
Thanks for reading! and Go Pack Go!