The third aspect of the Green Bay Packer defense is their inside linebackers, which will be completely and totally different in 2020. General Manager Brian Gutekunst made it very, very clear at the beginning of the offseason that they needed to reset their personnel at the inside linebacker, and with letting Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson walk in free agency, he did just that.
As Green Bay was tied to the likes of Nick Kwiatkowski and Corey Littleton for free-agent signees, they ended up signing neither of them, instead, jumping on Cleveland Brown castaway Christian Kirksey for a two-year, $16 million deal before free agency opened up. Kirksey was able to be signed earlier than most players because Cleveland released him before the new league year began, opening up the ability to negotiate early on.
Coverage issues were the biggest problem for this group in 2019, but losing Martinez means that the team will be losing around 100 tackles per year, which is a big loss that DC Mike Pettine will need to address. Here are a few more elements that this position group will need to improve upon for 2020.
If top LBs don’t fall to GB in 1st round, what next?
Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) and Patrick Queen (LSU) are the two top linebacker prospects in this year’s NFL draft, and both come into the league with big-school backgrounds with a lot of positive tape. The problem that comes along with that, is that all other teams will see the same tapes, and will want to draft him as much as Green Bay will.
If the history of the NFL draft has shown us anything, it is that Gutekunst is more than willing to take a chance and move around the board, something that has netted us Jaire Alexander and an extra first-round selection, which turned into safety Darnell Savage. And that may be what needs to happen in April if GB wants to secure either of those top prospects.
But what happens if they don’t? There are a few later-round options that could do the trick, and for a cheaper price.
Akeem Davis-Gaither of Appalachian State has been flying up draft boards and looks to be a very safe third-round prospect that could slide into the end of the second if the need arises. Smaller in stature, ADG was a tackling machine that also could become the captain of the defense and provide solid pass-coverage abilities in his rookie season.
Outside of ADG, Gutekunst could take a look at Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech), Troy Dye (Oregon), and Malik Harrison (Ohio State) in rounds 3-4, and either of these prospects could become solid plug-and-play options in their rookie campaigns.
Who gains a larger role to team with Kirksey?
Oren Burks was selected in 2018 to be the linebacker-safety hybrid that was taking the league by storm – but injuries and inconsistencies have made that perfect picture very unobtainable. As the most-likely in-house option to help on the inside, Burks is entering a pivotal time in his career.
Preseason hero Curtis Bolton, who missed the entire 2019 season with an injury, is looking like a potential in-house option too, but he will be fighting an uphill battle the entire way. Even as his familiarity with the playbook will help him miss out on an acclimation process, he will still need to prove himself again to the staff that he is capable of taking on a big role and would durable enough to do so for an entire season.
Randy Ramsey, Greg Roberts, Ty Summers, and Tim Williams are all on the roster and could serve ancillary roles moving forward, but none should be highly counted on, outside of potentially Summers.
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23